Gear, My Dear

A couple people have asked about my Kilimanjaro gear list – whether for the trip trip or just what I take for these long, 5.5 hour walks (which are scaled back since the trip delay) – so I’ve built out what’s currently working for me and some tips to how I got it!

The benefit of having a year+ to prep for this Kili hike is having had time to buy items off-season, to test them, sometimes to return them or upgrade, or wait for a sale I know is on the way. I genuinely, personally own everything on the list below, and I’ll link them all out even though I sometimes didn’t buy them the places they’re linked, they just came up first when I googled for this post.

My tips to (almost) never paying full price:

  • List, List, Baby – You can’t shop for what you don’t know you need/want. What do you need vs. what’s nice to have? Once you have your list of needs (knock off the things you already have that can do double duty, ie camping items like a sleeping bag or wool layers you already own because you live in Chicago aka Polar Vortex’s Fyre Fest), prioritize. What do you need to start training with ASAP? For me, I needed boots right away. There were a lot of ‘kilimanjaro packing list’ ‘women packing kili’ Google searches in the early days. If you’ve chosen a guide company for a trip make sure you check their custom list too. Sometimes they provide items you don’t need to buy or offer rentals so you don’t need to buy your own (like gaiters, sleeping bags or trekking poles).
  • Sale Away – If you know a sale is coming, try to hold out. I narrowed down pack options to the REI Traverse 35L for women, and then sat in wait for the Memorial Day Sale. It had been 50% off in May 2019; it was not that deeply discounted in 2020 but it was 30% off so I bought it then. Usually when a big outfitter does a sale, others do too because FOMO; Moosejaw almost always does a big sale when REI does theirs, Backcountry, etc.
  • Get Around – You don’t need to buy all the things from REI! I’m a massive fan of REI and did get a lot of my items there. One of their employees took 40 minutes to share her experience on a trip to Kili and recommendations. However, you can be thrifty and still REI. Support the co-op – also, pals – just buy the REI membership. It’s $20, one-time, it’s good for life, you can return items even if you used them for up to a year. I’m SERIOUS. Go do it. It’ll literally pay dividends and you get access to so much. INCLUDING my favorite: the Garage Sales. I have cleaned UP at REI from their Garage Sales, Outlet and Used sites. If you get a coupon on top of GS/Outlet/Used? Your wallet and you do a secret high five. You’ll know it when you see it.

    Other places I bought gear – Moosejaw, Eddie Bauer, Campsaver, Backcountry, MountainSteals (Moosejaw’s discount site), Sierra Trading Post (TJ Maxx/Marshalls/Homegoods gift cards work here!), Patagonia & North Face’s Renewed/Used & Repaired sites (most brands have some kind of outlet, used or renewed site, you just have to google it), Nordstrom Rack, Zappos, DSW, and yes, Amazon when needed, sigh. Check thrift stores – if you’re on the North Side of Chicago I stan my local ones like Play It Again Sports or Family Tree Resale on Lincoln – or digital thrift stores like GearTrade! Don’t overlook other sources like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace too. It’s summer and people been inside for 15 months – Summer Garage Sales are the SPOT in 2021!
  • Sell Yeah – Remember REI Used? Just did my first trade in with them – I have jackets I’ve grown/shrunk out of in the past year – and they sent me the mail in kit, etc. Just got an email that I have a $100+ gift card now to spend! YES! YOU DO NOT NEED ALL THOSE THINGS IN YA CLOSET, UNDER YA BED, STUFFED ABOVE THE HAMPER.
  • Don’t Marry an Idea – This is hard but – do you need the newest colors or features? Nah. It’s easier to find discounting on past-season colors and on clearance! Get something you can live with though; if you hate it it’s probably not worth it long term.
  • Let Yourself Be Blessed – This is a bit of a luck/hit and miss/no guarantee but I wanted to mention it. I messaged someone on FB Marketplace about a North Face Base Camp Duffel and when I showed up to buy it for $70 he asked where I was headed with it, when I said Kilimanjaro he gifted it to me. I almost cried. He said ‘have a wonderful trip and pay it forward someday.’ FOR REAL. A friend recently asked if there was anything I hadn’t bought myself and when I bashfully shared I had a ‘good enough’ fleece layer but there was one on my wish list they bought it for me. There are people who want to invest in your journey. Let them. That may be time, money, gear or emotional support. Allow them to be part of your story and success too.

The following is my ‘before trip’ list – and all has genuinely been tried out – but I’ll keep editing while I continue training and even after the trip (September 2021) so you know what was useful, what was overpacking, and what was just ridiculous.

Pack & Gear:

  • Hiking BackpackREI Traverse 35 – The golden color almost got me but a cranberry, green and blue combo?! Bails 101!
  • WaterPlatypus 3L Reservoir & Nalgene 32oz, plus a Katadyn UV Water Filter SteriPen and copious Nuun tabs/powders for taste & energy
  • Dry BagSea to Summit Ultra-Sil 13L – I plan on putting my camera gear in here and any other tech, battery pack, etc. It was on my wish list forever and I found it at an REI Garage Sale for $4 and change!
  • Trekking PolesBlack Diamond Trail Backs plus these rubber tips since I train/walk on the sidewalk/street in Chicago. I’ll pull the rubber tips off before I leave; I’ve taken them off when walking on icy sidewalks and they’ve saved my cute, round bacon multiple times.
  • Sleeping PadKlymit V Insulated Ultralight – make sure you check the R value for warmth if your trip needs it! Also – test it out and lay on it – make sure you can actually get comfortable on it, in your sleeping bag! Otherwise it’s a cold, miserable realization in ya tent.
  • PillowOutdoor Vitals Ultralight – not sure if I’ll take it or do the classic ‘clothes as pillow’ move but I got it for free so…?
  • Sleeping BagNorth Face 0/-18 Furnace Down Bag – do your research on the temp rating – there’s lots of variance in the ranges, how warm/cold you sleep, gender, etc. Some Kili routes stay in huts vs tents and that can flex what you need re: Sleeping Pad/Bag/Liner.
  • Sleeping Bag Liner Sea to Summit CoolMax – keeps your bag clean/less likely to need washing and another warm layer
  • DuffelNorth Face Base Camp Medium 71L – specifically for Kilimanjaro there are weight limits to your duffel to protect the porters, so the medium/71L was best for me as a chronic overpacker. This will carry everything I’m not wearing/carrying during the day, including my sleeping bag, add’l clothes, gear, med kit, etc. Also – petty – but I really loved the mountain color scheme on mine and knew it would help inspire me during training and be pretty unique from the other solid-color North Face Base Camp duffels on the side of the mountain.
  • Compression Stuff SackKelty Compression Stuff Sack – I have the XL but could have gotten a L (it was out of stock) to smoosh my sleeping bag smaller in the duffel.
  • Tent – if you’re like ‘wheres the tent Bails are you sleeping outdoors on a MOUNTAIN with CRITTERS’ – this item is provided by the guide company so while I personally own a tent (hi, 2-person Coleman Sundome I got for $25) I’m not taking it with me to Africa.

Feet:

  • BootsLowa Renegade GTX Mid – seriously, do go at least a 1/2 size up. This was super worth it to buy from REI and test out; I did end up returning to go up 1/2 a size. Your feet will swell and you likely will need more room if you’re doing multiple sock layers such as liner/hiking sock (which I do). A helpful test was to put on my intended socks, lace them and walk down a set of stairs to see if my toes touched the front or not.
  • Socks – Darn Tough Vermont (Micro Crew, Boot, Mountaineering) – I was a Smartwool lifer until I tried Darn Tough and I’m just mad it took me this long to find the greatest sock(s) of all time. NO CONTEST. Thanks Johnny B for the realization!
  • Sock LinerSilk REI liner, Icebreaker Wool Liner – didn’t start to need these until my walks got over 2, 2.5 hours and I was so glad to have them!
  • Foot Stick to avoid blisters – this thing is GOLDEN for my feet; I finally found a good blend is a little of this BodyGlide stick on my common blister spots, a sock liner, then the wool hiking sock *chef’s kiss*
  • Camp ShoeCrocs – sigh, yes. No one is stealing these ugly, insanely bright things. I waited until a triple-down on Zappos (sale, birthday coupon and points) so I at least could look myself in the eye for spending as little money as possible on these. Apparently they are the best shoe to put your swollen, end-of-day feet in and wear around camp; also v lightweight and easy to rinse off if muddy.

Basics:

  • UnderwearIcebreaker, Smartwool and Woolx
  • BraIcebreaker Longline and Smartwool – if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year that I’d tell you it’s the value in wool items for heat and cold, breathability and how rarely they smell/stink. Plus, nothing I own is as itchy as you think it might be since they’re blended w synthetics.

Bottoms:

  • Base LayersOdlo, Icebreaker, Patagonia – The Odlos are amazing; wide, soft waistband but don’t fall down after several wears. If you can snag them on sale they’re so worth it. I’ve been wearing them all winter in the house too! The Icebreakers are also great for warmth but that thin waistband does migrate/dig in.
  • Hiking Pants – Eddie Bauer (Guide Pro Pants ) – If you can snag these on a 50% off sale they’re awesome – also sign up for the EB Adventure Rewards because every other month they’re like ‘here’s $10 use however you want no minimum’ so hitting a 50% off sale + $10 off really is a sweet spot! I will say – I like the pants much better than the leggings, they may get voted off the (duffel) island.
  • Fleece PantsColumbia Exploration Pants – I’ve layered these with base layer and hiking pant this past week in the 0-10F degree range while walking and they’re perfect; also love me a zip pocket to keep all my secretsss.
  • Rain Pants/ShellREI Rainier Full-Zip Pants – used twice, stayed dry!
  • ShortsEddie Bauer’s Guide Pro Shorts – the pockets, the length, all perfect for long walks/hikes

Tops:

  • Sun ShirtMountain Hardwear Crater Lake Hoodie – I love these so, so much that I own three of them. As a pale goblin I need to hide myself from the Sun’s vengeance and these rock, hands down. SPF/UPF 50, a hood, thumb holes to cover hands, lil zip pocket for keys – plus – super thin so you stay cool! Note that these can smell t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e after one sweaty, sunny wear since they’re 100% synthetic. Wash ’em or learn to live with it.
  • Base LayersOdlo, Helly Hansen, Smartwool, Patagonia – I never got the hype about Helly Hansen before but she’s currently my fave with the 1/4 zip.
  • Fleece LayerWomen’s Monkey Fleece Hooded – I’m linking the Men’s one here because I can’t find the women’s (discontinued?) but this thing was my wish list item I was gifted and it’s phenomenal. Four functional pockets in a WOMENS CLOTHING ITEM?! RING A BELL!
  • Soft Shell JacketStormtech Performance – not sure I’m going to take this one, jury is still out (aka I’ll weigh the duffel and decide). My current layer system without it is good/solid. Officially soft shells are on a lot of lists but I am leaning towards ‘no’ for this item in my system since I run hot. I might sneak an extra thin fleece layer instead to sleep in – an Arcteryx Delta LT Women’s Jacket
  • Puffer LayerMarmot Quasar Down Hoodie – can fit under the hard shell since it’s thin!
  • Hard Shell GORE-TEX Jacket REI GTX at first because I was a size 16/18 and needed to fit all the above layers underneath; it came in a 2x. I found a screaming deal at Nordstrom Rack with a +25% off ‘Clear the Rack’ discount on this XL Mountain Hardwear Rain Shell I (and m’layers) now fit into. The big reason to upgrade? Pit zips. Do not discount these. Pit zips are so worth the upgrade to stay dry but not overheat.

Accessories:

  • GlovesMountain Hardwear Firefall GTX Mitten – What?! A MITTEN?! Yup. I tried out a GORE-TEX outer glove and it was too cold for me plus didn’t have good grip. I kind of figure if you’re not going to get good grip in a glove you might as well get warmth with a mitten. Another sell for me? Having a ‘leash’ to slip them off and use my camera with just the glove liners and not drop the mitten while doing it.
  • Glove LinerIcebreaker Quantum – good for a single layer when cool or warming up or to layer under the mittens. Plus since it’s a glove (not mitten) I get that finger dexterity back.
  • Sun HatAdidas Superlite UPF OR Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat – SO nerdy in the Sunday Afternoons hat but it does have an all around brim, which is good for Bails vs. Sun. But the Adidas has been my go-to in Chicago with my sun hoodie pulled up in the back. I need to choose…
  • Warm HatCarhartt Acrylic Hat OR Columbia Beanie – literally a vanity decision here too just need to make it *sing-song voice* but which color do I like betttttter
  • SunglassesEddie Bauer Preston Polarized have been my all around but I had to buy some Julbos (I got the Chameleon for Spectron 2-4 UV) for Mt. Baker (end of July) so I’ll probably take those unless they have some super rage-y issue
  • Various neck gaiters/buffs – Turtle Fur, Buff, etc.
  • GaitersOutdoor Research Rocky Mountain – got to try these for the first time in a verrrry deep snow in Chicago in Feb and they were poifect!
  • Camera/Gear – I’ve already owned my Canon T6i for a couple of years but some additional accessories were a clip from Peak Design, monster battery pack from RAVPower and an upgraded camera strap (Peak Design again)!
  • SheWee – OK, this was like, low on my list. They’re on most company lists but not many personal Kili lists. I didn’t think I’d get a FUD (female urination device). But then I had a glorious conversation with my OBGYN at my annual and found out – clad only in a paper gown – that she had climbed Kili in 2012! We chattered away happily while checking me for lumps, bumps and good health and she was like ‘you have to get one.’ I said, ‘really?’ and she says ‘it’s not just for privacy but honestly? Your legs are going to be so tired and shaky that you will struggle to keep your balance when you squat. And there’s not always somewhere out of the way/off the path that’s safe.’ Which hadn’t occurred to me – from both a muscle exertion and safety angle – and I trust her, so I got one. I’ve only used it once outdoors, with questionable success. I didn’t pee on myself but I like, couldn’t pee? Lifetime of don’t-pee-don’t-pee while standing up is hard to turn off. Apparently I need to practice in the shower, per the company – and I just ended up squatting in the trees on that aforementioned questionable success attempt!

There’s other small gear things to list out like items in my med kit, etc. that I don’t have links to but I’m taking – it’s a long list of ‘you might need so you should probably bring’ from Pepto Bismol to Diamox to WonderWoman bandaids. There’s also more of the typical items you’d think of taking – TP, bug spray, sunscreen, luggage tags, RFID passport wallet, etc. But this is 95% of my gear list and what I plan on using! Let me know if you have add’l ideas or tips or questions and I’ll update. Happy hunting!

Holding Pattern

I’m grown enough to know that bourbon and tacos aren’t a healthy coping strategy. But also, living alone during a pandemic and facing a large pile of disappointment? Yeah. It could be worse than bourbon and tacos.

Yesterday I texted my therapist, asking for a session to talk about the fact that in 30 days, I planned on leaving the US for my Kilimanjaro trip. I was struggling to reconcile being a good global citizen with pursuing this dream. We talked through the issues being 1) do I feel safe and more importantly 2) am I afraid of others’ perception of me traveling right now? And yes. Yes I was afraid of #2.

Today, I got a call that due to new US restrictions on international travelers entering the country, that my trip was cancelled, with the next dates available in June, 5 months away.

My guide company, who are phenomenal, awesome people – do not have access to guaranteed resources to get me COVID tested in Tanzania, 48 hour turn-around-time for results, take off to Amsterdam, layover 6 hours, then fly to the US within the 72-hour time frame. That’s 63+ hours if everything goes perfectly. And if you’ve ever traveled, you know that’s a big if. So they’ve made the difficult (and in my opinion, right) decision to cancel the trip rather than risk leaving me and my trip mates abandoned in airports flung across the globe.

It sucks, it sucks, it sucks it sucks it sucks. And yet I know there are a thousand things more important. The country is in the grips of civil unrest, there’s a damn pandemic still GAINING GROUND on us and here I am, sad no one will let me climb a big ole’ mountain. There are people without jobs, legitimately fearful of eviction, first responders beyond burned out and I’m soft drunk on my thrifted big red chair, crying that my trip is delayed (for the second time).

But if everyone’s Tad Hamilton to someone then by God, we all have got Kilimanjaro’s worth of disappointments from this past year. My Kilimanjaro is Kilimanjaro, but someone else has to cancel their wedding. Someone else’s new baby hasn’t met friends, coworkers or grandparents. People have lost their family members to COVID. Kids without classmates, triathlons delayed, reunions by the wayside, dream jobs abandoned, graduations deferred, one-in-a-lifetime experiences – gone.

I know I’m one of many. But it still hurts. And I feel, more than ever, so aware that I am alone in this apartment. That the only person who can soothe me is me. That the only way through it is through it.

Tomorrow can be for rallying. Tonight is for tacos, bourbon and sorrow.

Why I’m Climbing Kilimanjaro (Part 2)

Today I got the unbelievable wonderful magical news that my Kilimanjaro trip is a go. It’s truly happening and it’s happening in February 2021, folks! 75 DAYS. With that glorious Monday info – here’s Part 2 (of 3) on why I’m doing this dang adventure. Check out Part 1 here!

There have been a few movies I’ve seen as an adult that so wholly resonate with me that they make me break down. Not the 3 Scariest Kids Movies Ever, which is a different list, but the emotions. The FEELS.

As the credits for “Ladybird” started to roll I stood, tight-voiced said ‘Ijustneedtopeesobad,” power walked like someone with food poisoning into the beautifully tiled bathrooms at The Davis Theater, put my whole pre-COVID unclean jacket sleeve in my mouth and flushed the toilet to cover a hard, 10-second sob that wracked my body. I peed zero times and flushed the toilet 8 times.

On a hot, lethargic July weekend day in 2019, I sat in front of my wheezy window AC unit, scrolling aimlessly through several video apps and saw ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ on Amazon Prime Video. I rolled the idea around in my mind: ‘ugh a feel good movie isn’t there a die hard sequel somewhere instead’ countering ‘ Well, I do love Jillian Bell,’ and after watching the trailer, decided ‘I’ll start it and of course, run back to Season 3 of Orphan Black if I don’t like it.’

But I did like it. And I kept watching.

‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ is based on a true story – there is a Brittany who did indeed run a marathon – and that true story does indeed range from her first faltering steps outside to triumphantly completing the New York City Marathon. But a story without life breathed into it is just a grocery list of facts, so here’s why the movie made me lose a full pint of tears.

Here’s the description from Wikipedia (with some of my thoughts):

“Brittany Forgler is a 28-year-old living in New York City with her roommate Gretchen, a teacher’s assistant dreaming of social media fame. Visiting a new doctor to score a prescription, she receives unwelcome news; she must get healthy and lose weight. Every doctor’s visit. My entire life. Even when I was a Krav Maga instructor at my lowest weight. Even dentist visits in Korea. I have always been told I was overweight. That losing weight would help the issue du jour – be it mental or physical or emotional.

She visits a nearby gym only to find even the cheapest fee is out of her reach. I cannot tell you how many gyms, how many personal trainers, how many smoothies and supplements and diets. How many times I’ve tried to learn ‘fit lingo,’ bought the clothes, the gear – and how many times I felt like a failure at this goal of fitness. A fraud, waiting to be found out, throwing dollars at my belly.

Despite her fear, she tries running for the first time, successfully running one block. She is invited to run in a group with her neighbor Catherine, whom Brittany detests for her seemingly perfect life. OK well running is the devil’s exercise and no one can convince me otherwise. And real talk: I fully admit struggling with other women based on my idea of their ‘perfect’ bodies, with must of course = perfect life, right? That’s social math (I have a comm arts major so the math is LITERALLY wrong on that).

Brittany gets within five pounds of her goal of losing 45 pounds. Brittany’s pride, and continued reluctance to let Catherine into her life, force her to turn down an offer of support, and she withdraws. She regains weight, forcing her to run even harder, until one of her shins becomes too painful to walk on. Five weeks from the marathon, her doctor informs her she has a stress fracture and will be unable to run for six to eight weeks. In May 2019 I got a new job, I started trying Crossfit, I quit teaching at the Krav gym. In September, I quit the CrossFit due to wallet bleed (WOW that sparse box is pricey), rejoined the LSAC gym, got a trainer, started training. In October I tried Keto for 30 days, in November I added weightlifting classes and by Thanksgiving last year I was in so much pain I didn’t even want to workout. Getting (and staying) fit has a monetary, physical, emotional and mental cost. Not everyone will have your back (or know how to support you) past the ‘YEW GO GURL’ vibes.

She ignores calls and texts from Catherine, Seth, and Jern, saddened to see Seth and Catherine with their marathon medals. That same day, she disrupts her brother-in-law’s birthday party by making cruel comments about an overweight female guest. It’s hard to celebrate with (and for) your friends when jealous little sandworms burrow inside your heart. Your soft heart tightens into glass and you know it’s breakable, so you swing your spiky sandworm tail at anyone close to disrupting your glass heart and seeing through it to your shame of failure (Yes, I recently watched Beetlejuice for the first time and I love sandworms now).

One year later, Brittany runs in the marathon. At this point I’m openly weeping wedged into some half-baked moldy croissant body shape on a red chair that I bought used for $50 when I moved to Arkansas. The iPad is bouncing on my knees as I drag and push air hand-over-hand in and out of my compressed diaphragm. Somewhere inside of me I know it’s a movie, I know it’s a story, but they cut the audio/music bed so you only hear her breathing and I’m right there. I’m with her. The cottony rasp of her tying her shoe laces. Pulling on her good sports bra, you know, the one for bounce. Not the WFH $5 Gap bralette. Clothing herself in the armor she knows is dependable on the battlefield – to challenge the chafing, the high school knee injury, the sturdy Scunci hair tie that will hold 26.2 miles of ponytail bounce. The quality headphones you spent too much on but that hold your sanity playlist, pumping energy through the right and left tracks.

At the 22-mile mark, she develops a cramp and has to pause. She rejects medical assistance, but accepts an assistant’s offer to help her up. While considering quitting, she finds Seth, his husband and sons, and Catherine in the crowd cheering her on. She also encounters Jern, who says he loves her. She then keeps going, finishing the marathon. I’ve paused the movie, scraping my hand over my eyes to hide the shame of whole body sobs from who? the iPad? Jillian Bell? One of the other technological masterpieces in my single-person apartment that probably has an always-on microphone translating my sobs into therapy $s? I regain control of my body and press the space bar to finish the last few happy, joyous moments of the film. I squeeze my shaky, dopamine smile muscles up as the credits roll, showing the real Brittany and photos from her real marathon run.

And I immediately wanted to find…something. Something bonkers – not running – that would be *shudder* horrifying. But an outlandish goal. Something I really wasn’t sure I could do but maybe, maybe I could.

And I’m not sure what led me to this. But it’s the same date. I messaged the only person I personally knew who had climbed Kili (and had also very recently summited the Everest). I don’t know where my brass lil stones came from – but I sent it – and the dream siren did a double take, whispering “soon?” and I whispered back “…maybe.”

…to be continued…

Why I’m Climbing Kilimanjaro

It began with a massive crush on Justin Gingham, which is not his name, but I’m not here to somehow accidentally link a 10-year-old crush to someone’s professional life on LinkedIn via the technological witchcraft known as Google SEO. I am always down to clown on my life and tomfoolery but when it starts to involve others I AM A SOFT BOILED EGG. Also doesn’t Justin Gingham sound like a kind soul in a folksy parable? It fits.

Let’s talk about one of the factors that has contributed to me committing to climbing the truly bonkers number of 19,341 feet (5,985 meters for the rest of the sane, measuring world) in (probably) February 2021.

It begins with a crush–which birthed a mental image I’ve carried for over 10 years–which was naturally followed by a massive lie but we don’t have time to go into the lie and it’s unrelated. Y’all, I said we do not have time to go into the lie this is not the point of the story. OK sidebar for the lie since I can feel some of you salivating and I know you will not move onto the actual reason for this post; here’s the short(?) context for the lie: October 2009ish, senior year at ORU there is NO SHORT CONTEXT FOR THIS STORY I feel like this:

(Inhales deep breath) Justin Gingham was the…whatever the like, regional coordinator (that cannot be the right title) was for ORU Missions Trips, overseeing the trip I was going on to Morocco as an Assistant Team Leader. Oh, and he was my church small group leader and I had a massive crush on him. Those 3 things could not continue all being true. He asked me once directly about it? did he? someone important did. Maybe it was my team leader at the time? WHOEVER IT WAS someone with sway directly asked if I had a crush on him.*

I knew in my bones that:

1. The shame of telling the truth would be Great-Wave-off-Kanagawa levels of destruction in so many influential areas of my life: this mission trip, this church that was getting me through a very tough life season, my close-knit friend group and even my intramural job since we had a mutual boss. Our lives had so many similar/overlapping threads and it would truly be devastating to lose any of them.

2. ORU Missions had (has?) a no-fraternizing in the leadership hierarchy (Assistant Team Leader, Team Leader, Assistant to the Regional Manager, Houston Mission Control, This Mission Should You Choose To Accept It etc) policy. They would reassign me or him or both. Something public and difficult and it would be VERY AWKWARD because everyone would be like ‘oh why is Bailey and/or Justin Gingham reassigned’ and it would be irresistible ORU gossip catnip for @twapel

3. YOOHOO, HELLO, SHAME, AGAIN, THIS TIME JUST PERSONAL CRUSHING SHAME OF ‘WHAT IF HE DOESN’T LIKE ME BACK,’ DON’T FORGET!

And SO I lied and said, “NO, I DO NOT HAVE A CRUSH ON JUSTIN GINGHAM *scoffs*”

I remember immediately going to the always abandoned stairwell on the 7th floor of Claudius dorm (no one went there, we were all elevator folk THE SEVENTH FLOOR AND THE BASKETBALL TEAM WERE NOT STAIR PEASANTS) and wept. Genuinely wept. Heaving sobs. Sticky, wet shuddering heaves for a very-long-feeling but what probably amounted to 4ish minutes. Because I knew I’d have to sit in that lie for a long, uncomfortable time. And it sucked.

*Editor’s Note: We ran this blog draft past DB, who stated that actually, Justin Gingham asked him, to his face, ‘Does Bailey have a crush on me?’ and this absolutely platonic prince of my heart is the one who stone cold Steve Austin lied to JG’s face, saying “No, she does not.” DB and I are two sides to one coin (I’m heads and he’s CLEARLY tails, regardless of which currency we’re talking about) and so I somehow have internalized this story in my head canon to be me lying. As soon as DB told me this story though I remembered – he had called me on the phone as soon as it happened. I ran into the stairwell, panicked, my heart thumping some 5/4 trap rhythm. The most visceral memory of the story is that I cannot forget how searingly cold the stairwell landing was on the side of my face, which was hot and swollen from sobbing. Memories can be weird, pals.

Also, I don’t feel bad/weird/strange saying 1. I had a crush and 2. Lied about it because it’s 10+ years later. I’ve cycled through many a crush since then and since he’s been happily married for 7 years per some light Facebook creepage IT ALL WORKED OUT FINE FOR BOTH OF US *cackles, sips gin alone in Chicago apartment in a pandemic*

Flashback to Fall 2009 and JG the Crush (honestly, put that on a shirt) went to Clemson, SC to see a friend (Fun Fact for long-time listeners: that friend ended up being my actual replacement team leader on the Morocco trip in June 2010, an even longer story that has even less to do with Kilimanjaro) and they climbed some kind of mountain at sunrise.

Sidebar 2.0? 6.5?: I know the Appalachian Mountains exist because I watched “Last of the Mohicans” BUT I’m not going to expend the energy to google what mountain it was near Clemson because as we said, there is a pandemic, time is precious and democracy is at risk. Move on.

2009. Such a simple time when we used to upload whole albums of photos to Facebook. And if your crush is uploading an album – be honest – you’re going to look at all.the.photos. So here’s a few I went and screenshot (YES I DID GO BACK 11 YEARS AND FOUND THEM THEY ARE NECESSARY TO THIS MOMENT):

Breathe those in. Take a minute, pause here in on the internet. Scroll back up a scooch. You can taste that clean, crisp air. It makes the insides of your lungs feel like a Listerine strip. Sit and lazily watch the clouds roll past, forming puffy shapes and disintegrating into ethereal wisps. You’re in no rush. Watch the sun rise, showing off colors that are flamingo and fawn and plum. You probably hear a song faintly in the back of your mind; I hear Enya’s “May it Be” and I don’t feel bad about it.

And so, sitting in Tulsa, Oklahoma clicking deeper and deeper into a crush on my 2006 Dell Inspiron laptop, this little worm of an idea crawled its way between my ribs and took up shop in a nook of my heart: I want to stand on a mountain and look down at the clouds.

This wee dream started living rent-free in prime heart real estate, twiddling it’s thumbs, waiting for the moment. A brief look at Sagada in 2015 has the mental tornado sirens go off as I research day trips in the Philippines, but alas, it’s rainy season and no safe guide will go.

So I tuck the dream back into the garden apartment of my heart, mollifying it with ‘soons’ and ‘somedays’ as it grumbles and shakes its tiny wispy fist.

And there it hibernated for 4 more years.

And I started to dream about the clouds.

The dream began to rub the sharp lil sleep crusts out of its eyes and the siren let out a few shaky coughs. My browser search history started seeing ‘tanzania’ and ‘Kilimanjaro’ and ‘fitness level climb kili’ with regularity.

This image I fell in love with from a crush that I lied about, wept about, carried to North Africa and back and and tucked safely into the pockets of my soul started to align with something I was scared to even say out loud to another person: I was going to climb Kilimanjaro. I’m going to look down at the clouds. I can. I’m capable. It’s happening.

…to be continued…

A Blog I Pay For and Rarely Update: UPDATED!

Well, it’s been a year. Truly. I haven’t blogged in a year! Not since my EPIK return to Korea (wink at y’all English teachers over there) for MinShik & Ara’s wedding.

And here those same people are celebrating their one year anniversary by having their first baby ON THAT DAY. That’s some Gattaca-level skill, I tell ya.

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Lots has changed. LAWD. Yes. Grab yourself a low-carb snack because y’all about to get the deets.

  1. Jobs

Two promotions at Grubhub and a sabbatical-turned-bowing-out at Titan Gym ALL IN THIS PAST ONE YEAR.

In January I became a Senior Sales Executive with Grubhub; it was a huge, out-of-the-blue honor and when I asked ‘what’s different than my current job?” my boss replied “Its what you’re already doing with the team, I’m just going to pay you for it.” How cool is that?!

Actual photo of said boss:

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Seriously one of my favorite things in my career was in our first ever one on one development meeting last year (right *after* the Korea trip) the first thing I said was “I want you to know I’m in grad school for training and development and that’s what I want to do long term.”

His reply? “OK, let me hook you up with the right person who’s heading up training.” Literally the next week she got me in a classroom training new hires in a session 1x every 2 weeks. MONEY/MOUTH AND ALL THAT. When does that happen?!

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And this past April when a new role opened up to become a sales trainer for new hires he recommended and she championed me for the role, which started May 1.

Y’all. I have never felt the Conan mantra of “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen” more. I joined Grubhub just to get a sales paycheck and have a regular schedule to pursue my passions and here this place that I thought would be a job I wasn’t going to put my heart into has given me such gifts. Managers that believe in me and CREATE JOBS that I wasn’t even aware of. I’m very blessed.

Now I’m the “Learning Solutions Associate” (ie. Non-Corporate Sales & Account Advisor Trainer) for all employees in those departments for Grubhub Inc. Nationwide. I’ve trained over 75 people in the last 5.5 months. That is bananas to me and I’m so grateful. All that in a year and a half at this company.

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Because of that role shift and wrapping up grad school I knew that my time at Titan Gym was coming to a close. I have loved and sweated and bled and cried in that place – sometimes all at once – and I leave with so many good memories and relationships. I felt like I couldn’t be both throwing my heart (and fists) into learning & teaching Krav while also trying to originate a role at Grubhub.

So with a final rooftop drinking session and countless hugs I left (by choice) no longer an instructor at Titan Gym. I’m still a certified Krav Maga Level 1 Instructor through KMA and I know if I’m ever interested in getting back into it that Daniela and Ivo have my back. And if you need a place to kick ass, feel stronger or find mental toughness I will recommend Titan Gym to the moon and back again and again and again.

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WHEW.

2. School

Yes, I finished my grad program at University of Wisconsin – Stout and now have my graduate certificate in Instructional Design. I need to frame that fancy piece of paper sometime soon.

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3. Comedy

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LAUGH SQUAD?! Oh man y’all. So last October in the week after I got back from Korea I auditioned for a ComedySportz House Team and was cast into the most perfect circle of weirdos by two insanely talented coaches who happened to have the exact same initials – HMS. So naturally our team name became “Pinafore” after the famous Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera ‘HMS Pinafore.’ I have still never to this day heard any music from it although I did briefly glance through the Wikipedia page.

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No, I didn’t realize we were all serving fierce face. Or at least my genre of fierce face. Our team just had our final show on 10/6 and it has been a journey. I feel like I’ve grown with such a great team with depth and tears and joy. I have peed myself a little laughing so hard, which I can admit now that the team is done. I mean, I could have admitted it before but why BOTHER.

Truly I have loved the CSZ House Program; auditions for the next round are in November and I’m excited to see what the next group of people I get to fall in love with looks like!

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Other things I’ve been blessed to yuk it up on/with: I got cast into a RIFF Music Improv camp which has had me perform 3x with a stone-cold group of short-form music improvisers that HAVE PIPES, y’all. Some of these people I’ve watched perform for years in music improv and it’s an honor to strap on a Britney mic and make up songs for an audience with them.

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I’ve also done 2 seasons of MINt (Music Improv Night) at the Annoyance; such an open space to trying weird and beautiful things with music improv and our voices. If you’re looking for a community to fall in love with, the MINt crew is a good one. 4 teams every 4 months and you get such a wide range of experience, skills and strange, hilarious songs.

There’s been a few one-offs performing with friends’ groups and even a couple shows with some MI people I met in iO’s Music Program as an indie group named “AirBRB.”

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I’m moving into a season when I’m not sure when my next show is; it’ll be light this next month, which is kind of a fun thing. I’ll miss it. But I think it’s healthy to have a breather and come back hungry, whenever the next show is. And you never know when someone might text you at 4pm about a show that night at 1030pm and you gotta be ready to make believe with the best!

4. Health

OOOOOHHHH fun. Let’s talk about it! Since last year when I got my Krav Maga instructor cert in July (shoutout to the 3am Protein Squad) I’ve let things slip a bit. And why not?! When you survive that kind of thing you deserve to let yourself chill. But…I didn’t really reign it in. I was doing ok; maintaining some cardio but I knew things needed to step up. I was getting a little burned out on Krav. Here’s my 7am face on the way to teach class:

I let myself write excuses and they added up. Once I was done punching/kicking regularly I did CrossFit for a few months – it was great and ya girl loves heavy weights – but the price was really high. Especially when I could be going out of town to our Phoenix office for work up to once a month, missing a week at a time. It was an expensive habit.

So I jumped back into going to LSAC (Lincoln Square Athletic Club) regularly – it’s been 3 weeks in and I’m kind of loving my schedule:

Mondays – Pole Class at Brass Ring (I KNOW) and it’s so fun. Such an empowering environment and an hour flies by. Its slow but I see progress! And thigh bruises.

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Tuesdays – Workout at LSAC (trying to follow the schedule Brian (see Fridays) gave me the week before)

Wednesdays – Volleyball with friends at LPHS – y’all we had a double header last week and I burned 1,448 calories in 1 hour and 55 mins. WE WORKIN’.

Thursdays – Improv Day (aka rest and do some make believe in comedy class)

Fridays – Personal Training with Brian at LSAC

Saturdays – Yoga (at home right now using an Apple TV app but maybe at LSAC in the future)

Sundays – Intro to Olympic Weightlifting with Keith at LSAC (today was the first one; I did a 65lb bar snatch from shins to above my head! 9 times! Y’ALL! SHE BACK!)

Also I started attempting/doing a Keto & intermittent fasting on 10/1; it’s been a little rough but we’re getting into the groove of it. That first week, candidly, sucked. The low carb/Keto flu thing is for real. But now I’m used to it; the 12-8 fasting part is honestly not that hard now. Very manageable. It’s more the carb counting thing of keto that is taking slow (but progressive) shape.

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5. The Rest

a. Photography

I know everyone has a camera in their smartphone – I’m doing some photography learning – I bought myself a Canon T6i DSLR last year RIGHT BEFORE starting grad school so I hid it in the closet from myself until school was done in May. I’ve taken some pictures I’m proud of and I’m working my way through a couple Lynda.com (grad school got me a free account) photography courses to learn the camera. I’m a student of it right now for sure but here’s a few photos I’m proud of:

b. Norway

I found out last year that I’m 1/8 Norweigan; that doesn’t sound like ‘a lot’ but honestly I’ve never really thought about it. I generally classify my heritage as ‘SPF 75’ but have always known our family is generally German with some crossover to other classically pale squads (Irish, probably English, other various tribes of roving wild-haired people on/around Hadrian’s wall, etc).

Last year in October someone posted in this Women of Chicago Comedy Facebook group I’m in about a Norwegian TV show that 1. Flies you to Norway and 2. You good-naturedly compete with other Norwegian-Americans to win $50,000. SO I APPLIED OF COURSE and got to ask my mom and grandparents questions over iMessage about my heritage. Apparently one of my great-grandmas was first-generation American, born in the US. Her parents both emigrated from Norway in the early 1900s to Washington State, near Ballard. So…if one of the 8 people that made me is full-blooded Norwegian…then by the power of Punnett Squares or whatever that means I’m 1/8 Norwegian, right?

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ANYWAYS I did not get cast but I just realized they’re auditioning again so I’m going to throw ye olde application back in there. 1. Because it sounds fun and 2. Norway is GORGEOUS and 3. I did promise Neal Carlin that I would apply again. He’s gone in Italy doing an insanely cool apprenticeship so the least I can do is fill out info about my LIFE.

Our family doesn’t really do any celebrations of heritage. My great-grandma Harriman (she of the Norwegian blood) made lefse for Christmas, but I never really understood the connection as a kid. She passed when I was in high school and none of us kids ever learned to make it with her. Also, keep your traps shut but my real goal if I get on this show is to learn to make Fattigman cookies and then make them with my Nana for Christmas. KEEP MY SECRETS, INTERNET.

I think there’s a real beauty in appreciating where you came from and knowing you are a part of a legacy of choices – good ones, bad ones, ones that had to be made one way or another – and then choosing how you want your part of the story to be written. Sitting under the Northern lights and walking on glaciers would be a pretty jaw-dropping moment in life; 10/10 I’d be crying frozen little tears of joy. So we’ll see! I’m applying!

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c. Travel

I’m going to DC in less than 2 weeks – I’ve never been to DC AND I haven’t seen David Brown in 4+ years in person. That’s bananas to me. I genuinely cannot believe that there’s not some time/space blanket fold that I jumped through because it CAN’T have been four years.

But the internet says it has. So myself, Bekah, Adam & Dana (plus maybe their dog Millie) are all meeting up with David in DC October 25-27 and I could SQUEAL I am so excited.

I went to Ohio in March just to see my loves Xander and Trace and get drag-ified myself. I learned that clip on earrings are the reason beauty = pain and that stick on nails are NOT for me. But I looked great.

d. Experiences

I saw my first Broadway shows in the past year – I don’t know what took me so long! I saw Hello Dolly, Book of Mormon, Hamilton. Les Mis, Falsettos – I WANT TO SING EVERYTHING.

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I went to the Shedd Aquarium on Thanksgiving – it was BEAUTIFUL and uncrowded and my ticket was free – cue v v thankful.

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I saw Conan O’Brien’s show in Chicago and met Aaron Bleyart, who’s blog(s) I have followed for over TEN YEARS.

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Passed my Krav Level 3 student test and Muay Thai Level 2!

Survived the Polar Vortex in Chicago when it was over -20 degrees below zero. This is the *inside* of my windows.

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My parents came to Chicago for Father’s Day! The umbrella is my Mom hiding from the camera as all 3 of us eat Chicago Dogs outside the Field Museum. Also, I went to the Field Museum.

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I went to Arizona 3 times – February, May & August – for work and to visit family. What a cool, weird mix of colors. I saw the Grand Canyon and cried a little behind my sunglasses as my family pretended to not notice.

I saw a Seattle-based artist, SYML, who’s work I love not once but TWICE. Also saw Dean Lewis at the same concert and fell in love w his new album.

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Saw a bajillion improv shows, learned which lipsticks look good on my skin tone and saw so many people I love.

What. A. Year.

 

More updates, more often, from this face:

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Baby’s First Amtrak…at 29.

So technically, it’s not my first first Amtrak. I took the Cascades from Bellingham to Portland once to visit my bestest friend Loni several years ago, but that was like 5 hours. Psssh. Weak.

THIS was the Texas Eagle, a 13+ hour ride from Chicago’s Union Station to Little Rock, Ark.’s also-named Union Station. I’d never been to Union Station in Chicago and hadn’t been to visit Little Rock in almost 2 years, so it was time to un-bucket list this ish.

Y’all might want to grab a tea and have a bathroom break ahead of this novel titled “CHI>LRK: A Modern Amtrak Tale.”

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——

Pre-Game: I was going to take the Brown line to Quincy/Wells and walk 7 minutes,  but it’s so much easier to take a Lyft. Especially once it started raining and ESPECIALLY once I hefted a bag that had 2 six-packs of local beer I was ferrying to friends. The Lyft driver and I got into a slight argument about where my address was (I was standing on it, he disagreed, I won) but I got to Union Station nice and early to quiet my Ravenclaw need for order and early arrivals. What’s that? Y’all recommend 60 minutes early? I GOT THERE NINETY MINUTES EARLY, boom! *drops wand*

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Union Station: I was a little anxious because this place. is. huge. It has all the bodies of an airport, less the efficient signage. It was definitely confusing but gorgeous in its old-school design and look. It’s very ‘old Chicago architecture’ vibe mixed with WHERE THE HELL DO I GO?! lizard brain panic. I had purchased a coach ticket online and they said on it ‘if you’re boarding coach in Chicago, get a boarding pass/group’ and there was no help or signage on how to find it.

I had already printed my paper ticket and had a digital version in my iPhone’s Wallet app but was stuck on where to find said physical pass. There was a gargantuan line for checking baggage, but as I was not checking baggage, I was keeping my smuggled beer VERY close to my person, so I ran around trying to find where the baggage pass was while carting the aforementioned beer plus 4 hefty bags of Chicago-style popcorn plus my carry on suitcase and my overstuffed backpack. I’m an overpacker, people. I got told to come back to the main hall at 1:15 to line up for boarding—boarding passes didn’t exist, they’d just line you up. Walking around with my Auntie Anne’s pretzel bites (I have ZERO willpower around that place), I’m noticing the clientele in the station. There’s a lot of people that appear to be of Amish descent/clothing. It makes me curious about how the tenets of their faith and modern technology/trains work together, but if they’re here, God must be ok with it.

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Boarding: ITS 1:15 TIME TO SPRINT 40 feet to the “C” line and hope no one calls me on my duffel (beer & popcorn), carry on suitcase (clothes) and overstuffed backpack (books, tech, sweats, ID/Ticket) plus blanket. You then kindergarten follow an Amtrak employee as a long, snake-y line through the station until you reach the gates, which look like the gates in a small, regional airport. They line you up and you walk down to the tracks and as you walk on the platform in-between two huge, tall hulking trains, Amtrak employees ask where you’re going. “Little Rock is 2 doors up on the right,” was my reply and I get there and meet our car attendant/porter/awesome guide and she directs us in and up a tiny, windy staircase that reminds me of a Washington State ferry staircase.

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On-board: The train is 2 levels—apparently called a Superliner—and I got my ideal spot, back right corner. I get to lean back super far without disturbing anyone and I already made friends with the lady in the back left corner. She’s going to Little Rock too and I asked her to take a picture of me because I literally couldn’t contain my excited face. I was the second person in the car and I hefted my beer/popcorn duffel and suitcase up in the overhead rack, placing the aforementioned overstuffed backpack and blanket under the seat in front of me. I looked for a seatbelt THERE ARE NONE, I don’t know what I expected and then I looked down and I saw so much leg room that I could have cried. CRIED, dammit. I reclined my seat, bothering no one and just sighed, content. And the train hadn’t even started moving yet.

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Our goddesss of awesome train-ness, Avia (“Its’ French for ‘bird’”) gave us some info about the ride, saying how it’s her first Texas Eagle run but not her first w/ Amtak; she’s been with the company for 11 years. AND THEN THE TRAIN is moving. I am wiggle wiggle joyous excited. It feels like that wondrous itch of going to Japan or Thailand and the pride of I’M DOING THE THING and I have missed it. I think sometimes we forget or grow so comfortable with our routine that you forget to be a tourist in your own country. I realize anyone who takes Amtrak every day for work probably just threw up in their mouth, but I’m loving it. Also, I’m not-so-secretly hoping that Joe Biden is on the train. I know he lives in Delaware but I heard he takes Amtrak and I kind of feel like he’s the type to incognito just be on any/every Amtrak train.

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I’m Chris Traeger-ing this train ride and I don’t even care that the poor Amtrak intern probably reading my tweets is exhausted THIS IS SO FUN. Y’all. Why do we travel any other way? I’ve been on the train 30 minutes and I already love it. Just south of Chicago and it’s so, so green. It looks like the woods behind my Grandma Loveau’s house; big green leafy bushes that probably have blackberries hanging plump and ripe and scrubby weeds that I’m gonna pick even though my mom tells me not to.

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I’m pretty convinced that I won’t have great T-mobile cell service everywhere and I’m ok with that. I welcome it, actually. I’ve been reading a book about meditation, (10% Happier by Dan Harris) and I’m looking forward to turning my brain off a bit. I brought my journal and another book and I just want to let my brain slow down.

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Visits observation car; damn. Damn damn. Swivel chairs and full-length windows. Much green. Such Instagram shots.

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Starting to feel like a good nap…return to seat. Dining attendant comes by and I get a reservation for 7:15 like adults do!

…wakes up. Illinois is super green, y’all. And rural. Agriculture is all over.

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…sleeps again.

…wakes up. Trees on the track before Springfield, held for 30 minutes. Cool, I forgot that’s the state capital!

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More Illinois; more green. Continue reading “10% Happier,” trying to slowly let it permeate my brain and not rush through and it’s so helpful on learning to meditate. I know, you cringed. I did too. But breaking it down, it’s about not just my gut reaction to things, it’s helping me slow down and respond rationally. It’s like slow-mo Matrix moments where I have time to make choices rather than EMOTION VOMIT at someone/thing.

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Anyways, it’s a great book. I’ve been on and off reading it for a week and I’m really getting into the meat of it. I’m writing notes and actually absorbing it when—

“7:15 Dining Car, come on down.” OH Y’ALL IT IS STEAK TIME.

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One of my co-workers, Jeff, told me that if I’m gonna Amtrak it, I need to try the steak at least once. It’s $25 but I’m so, so down. And I got a glass of wine BECAUSE I ADULT. I arrive in the dining car on time just as we’re pulling into St. Louis and this iconic view.

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I am seated across from a middle-aged couple and next to a young young 20-something who is super quiet. Like, I’m trying to pull teeth saying ‘hi,’ making casual jokes and asking questions and she is shutting. it. down. She orders a side salad and iced tea, when I offer her the basket of salad dressings, she says “just ranch. I’ve never tried anything else.”

FOR REAL I AM NOT LYING. Folks, I am all for like what you like and eat what tastes good but when salad dressing is FREE (which it rarely is) and you can try new stuff, TRY THE BALSAMIC OR ITALIAN because they are not scary. She would have shit herself if they’d had some chili lime vinagrette. Oh well. She’s going to Houston I pry out of her between her Snapchats. Goodness. I turn to the older couple across from us. He’s asking her about what’s gonna work for him since his teeth are out. They’re going to somewhere near Shreveport, Louisiana, which is surprising considering this train doesn’t go there.

I slowly piece together between our-lady-of-side-salad and the toothless man and the wife who is talking loudly on the large Samsung phone that all 3 of my tablemates were on some weird delayed? Amtrak and got rerouted to Chicago. Side Salad says she got off her train to get toothpaste? and got lost, missing getting back on. Ser Teethless says their train was 4 hours delayed and they missed their connection in Chicago so they had to stay there 24 hours and wait. Damn. This is like joining a book halfway and I’m so in.

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Teethless and I start to get a little traction talking when I joke saying “I’m the only one of us intentionally in Chicago” and he shares that he drove a cab there for 40 years but got out because…something. It was a little difficult to understand him sans teeth, but he was intriguing. I started trying to put into practice some of the things in the book; ‘be present in this moment, don’t think ahead or behind,’ and I leaned forward, asking him about his dogs (2 chihuahuas) and his proclivity for befriending wild animals (a lynx, wolves, myriads of squirrels, stray cats, A POSSUM). Then our food came and I discovered Bernaise sauce.

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FAM. I gotta say, I would have moaned if Side Salad wouldn’t have inevitably snap chatted it. What is this stuff and how have I gone 30 years without it? Chock full of delicious witchcraft, I tried to savor every bite while listening to Teethless tell me about how ‘some people just got the touch’ for befriending animals, and well, he’s got it.

He then said to Side Salad “you want one of these shrimp?” I looked at him, then her, confused. She demurs. He insists. She TAKES IT. I’m ping ponging between them wondering if I need to tell Teethless that this girl/young woman is fine and happy with her ranch leaves and doesn’t seem to be a meat eater. Then Lady Teethless puts a slap of her steak on Side Salad’s plate and I’m like “are they trying to talk her out of being vegan by temptation?” SS is grateful and doesn’t seem to be giving me any bat signal of distress that these people are forcing various meats on her, AND SHE IS EATING THE MEATS. I’m using my customer service face but I’m so confused that this is some new Midwest tradition I’m not knowledgeable about AND also offended that these people aren’t offering me food. But damn, I am an adult who ordered a $7 glass of wine so I guess I’m either a) financially solvent and seem ok in the Iron department or b) not the type of woman they’re looking to meet on a train and take home in a body bag.

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We finish our meal and the family Teethless leaves for him to smoke as we are stopped in St. Louis. I look at Side Salad and say “do y’all know each other?” AND THE STORY COMES OUT.

Apparently they all ended up seated next to each other on the same aforementioned delayed? train to Chicago and made friends? I don’t know how, considering the communication barriers (Snapchat/age/lack of teeth) but that’s why they know each other. I’m assuming maybe Side Salad didn’t realized budget-wise that this was happening and the Teethless Couple was doing a good Samaritan thing feeding her meats and fattening her up for ritual sacrifice so she could stay alive and donate a black market organ see her brother in Houston without going broke.

See, this story had a great ending. As an addendum, I’d like to add that although I was miffed to not be carded for my tiny plastic bottle of chilled Chardonnay, the waiter did ask me to writing down my phone number as I signed for my credit card receipt, so I STILL GOT IT.

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Returning to my seat with a slight case of the meat sweats, I realize that we still haven’t left St. Louis. We’re running a bit behind and they’ve shut off the engines while we’re waiting. So…not meat sweats, just lack of moving air. They announce that everyone should try to avoid using the facilities as the train is off and they only flush when the power is on, prompting my bladder to be like NOW NOW RIGHT NOW EMPTY MEEEE as I’m flush on $7 Chardonnay and already nestled back in my big, comfy, ridiculously great seat.

FINALLY we leave St. Louis and I’m lucky enough that no one boards and sits next to me. These seats are no joke, spacious enough that I wouldn’t be irritated by it, but it’s nice not to worry about stepping over someone on my way to the bathroom/stretching my legs OH MY GOD when did we become the last car?!

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Apparently they’ve chopped off the back 2 cars of the train sometime while I was on a romantic date with a steak. Huh. That’s cool. I wish it was still lighter out because these photos from the back of the train would be AMAZING. And now I’m all peed out and curled up, typing away. Happily full of steak and adventures and more relaxed than I’ve ever been while traveling. Seriously, why do we travel any way but this??

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We stop for over an hour in the dark at the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri with no explanation and I’m worrying about my friend who had agreed to stay awake and pick me up at 3am is now 3:40, 4, 4:08…I tell him to go to sleep and re-download the Uber app since Little Rock doesn’t have Left yet. I arrive at the station and after an interesting Uber ride that included the words “Jeffrey Dahmer could have passed a background check” to be an Uber driver, arrive grungy and sleepy to my destination.

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Initial thoughts:

  • Ridiculously comfortable: THE LEG ROOM! Reclining seats, fold out desk/eating station, fold out footrest, etc. made it easy to sleep and perform multiple tasks
  • The food: good god, I will remember that béarnaise sauce on my death bed. And the coffee isn’t bad either!
  • So nice to get up and walk around: wide aisles, observation car, easy to get to and multiple bathrooms.
  • Price: a round trip flight from Chicago to Little Rock was over $400 and for multiple dates. So…I thought to try the train and I’m so glad I did. $80 each way for $160 round trip plus steak dinner plus cup of coffee on return trip is total $200. SO LEGIT
  • Timing: It’s…long. Just about the same as driving directly, but much less responsibility. Much easier to get up and walk around than the Megabus, which was cheaper but required transfer in Memphis. I was delayed about 70 minutes on the way down and about 2 hours on the way back. So…if time is a concern or you have a connection or someone is picking you up, possibly not the best choice unless they/you are flexible.

Overall, I’m happy I took Amtrak for my wallet and for the experience. It is great to sleep a good chunk of the ride and wake up/get to your destination actually relaxed and not worry about the weight/number/paying of your bags and the security check and the 2 hours early, etc. (within reason; Amtrak does have baggage rules and they’re on the website) but for me, such a smooth experience. I love that their slogan is “Change how you see the world” because it was truly revelatory seeing some of America’s green gorgeous land and the sun set over the horizon. If you haven’t Amtrak’d before, you should; if not just for the béarnaise sauce *cue Homer Simpson donut sounds* then for the truly enjoyable experience.

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“‘Pokemon’ Is Short For ‘Pocket Monster'” and other things in Japan

Not my best title, I know, but I’m writing this over a month later after returning from Japan, so…a lot of brain cells and one egg have died since then, so I’m not on top of my game. Yep.

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It always felt that my time in Asia wouldn’t be complete without visiting Japan. For $50 you could fly from Busan to Osaka and stuff yourself full of sushi, roll in piles of Doraemon swag and perfect the art of karaoke, so that was the easiest decision ever. I finished up 2 years of work at K. Hogwarts and left for 10 days in the land of the rising sun.

Continuing with my Philippines tradition, I went makeup-less and packed just a backpack to carry on my flight, only to run into one of my bosses at the airport, so it was a great start to the trip. After landing on the island airport of Osaka (no, really, it’s an island)

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I realized that I couldn’t remember the address of the hostel I was staying at, and in immigration there was no wifi…so I lied and wrote “friend’s apartment in Osaka” and cried a little in the line after copying the phone number of the guy in front of me. Sorry Marty (and Japanese immigration official) and random stranger. I just was dumb and forgot about the paperwork part, I didn’t pre-plan to fraud everyone I JUST WANTED THE DORAEMON SWAG.

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After renting a data ‘egg’ and slowly, awkwardly reading train signs, I made it to Osaka Station. I…was not prepared. It was like Seoul Station on crack. There are at least 7 lines running out of there, and sub-stations and new letters and new solar systems and *cue hyperventilation and hypoglycemia* someone finally came out to help me because I was sweaty and awkward for too long. I finally made it to my hostel in Osaka, and it was perfectly cute and quaint–Air Osaka Hostel via AirBNB in Kitagaya was warm and friendly. They also included a map that pointed out some awesome hot springs (that I visited twice), a delicious, cheap restaurant (again, twice) and a sushi place (once, because money).

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LOOK AT THAT DESTRUCTION. I am the destroyer of Japanese foods. I also visited the Pokemon Center in Osaka and…well…

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Squeeeeeee. I never got into Pokemon as a kid, but who doesn’t like Pikachu? I bought myself a soft little squishy Pika and a coin purse because anything less than a 1000 yen note (around $8USD) is a coin. SO MANY COINS. Also of note, the only ONLY song that plays in the Pokemon Center? The Pokemon theme song in Japanese. On loop. I fear for their employees because they must walk in to work hoping for–

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After more Osaka explorations, including a 3-story Sanrio (Hello Kitty) store, Osaka Castle and a peaceful, rainy Shinto shrine:

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I then lovingly tucked my Pika into the backpack and took off for Fukuoka!

In August 2014, I got to lead a program of 60 Japanese students from Aso College, in Fukuoka and 60 Korean students from my parent school, Yeungjin College in Daegu. We mixed together the students for a 5-day, 4-night English intensive camp, and it was one of my favorite teaching experiences ever. So I was unbelievably excited to see several of my Japanese students again–they even let me stay with them, they COOKED, we talked–it was so much fun. Plus, OWL CAFE.

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You pay 1500 yen (about $12-13) to hold these handsomes. The first 15 minutes you read some safety tips, including “please don’t forget owl is rapacious bird” and “when you see hate signs while you touch owls, please stop touching owls right away.” I don’t know what a hate sign is, but look at this bro, who was bestowed the name “Nuts.” HOW COULD HE EVER HATE SIGN?!

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The next day, after a delicious homecooked meal from Tati, my students took a taxi WITH ME to the airport. They refused to let me pay and they even bought me some Pika swag from the Fukuoka Pokemon Center! I’m so happy to have met them and been their teacher and their friend too. I was a little sad to go on to Tokyo, but off I went, backpack bulging with Pikas and gifts from the Super Daiso that I had gotten lost in. Thanks so much to Tanya, PJ, Tati, Ryota and everyone else I got to see!!

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In case you are planning to go to Japan, you need to know that Narita Airport is in the middle of Egypt nowhere, so plan accordingly. I made it into my hostel in Tokyo’s Shibuya district around 10 at night, a little lonely and ready to eat my own hand. I walked up the four flights of stairs, ran down to find food and smack into a guy staring at his smartphone exactly the same way I had been 5 minutes before. I asked, “Are you looking for the Geekhouse?” He looked up, and stammered “ah 애, yes” and when I looked closer, I saw the telltale signs of Korean 20something guy–Carhartt and white socks with white tennis shoes–I replied “진짜?!” and laughed, watching his jaw drop. It had only been 6 days, but I’d already missed speaking in Korean and feeling halfway knowledgeable in a foreign country. He threw his bag upstairs and we got ramen and a beer together on the corner, talking about our lives in Korea and our travels in Japan. When we figured out that we wanted to see the same areas the next day, we ended up walking around all of Shibuya and Harajuku together–Won Geol and I, the photographer and the makeup-free white girl. (You can see him peeking his head into my otherwise flawless pano of the Meiji Jingu below)

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Over my last 2 days, I discovered a shop that sold $20,000 original, single, hand-painted animation cells from classic Studio Ghibli films like “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Totoro,” stood in Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world, and walked an hour back to the hostel, letting myself crack a little and grieve about leaving Korea soon.

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I left Japan after not-so-gently shoving my Pika and all his friends into my backpack, and hoping that Peach didn’t have weird restrictions on carry ons since my bag weighed as much as the Sherpa I would need to carry it, and headed home to gimbap and soju, ready to live up my last 2 weeks in Korea. Pictured below is me and my Pika:

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A lot of people have asked about the differences between Japan and Korea, especially my Korean friends, so here’s a brief list of things I noticed that may or may not be unique in my experience:

1. It’s quieter. There’s less noise, less ambient music, less screaming, less “Oppppppppaaaa” and less honking. Every city I was in was just calm. Even the busy areas–even in Shibuya crossing, it was remarkable. No one is talking unless they have to. Everyone is respecting everyone else’s space. Even Won Geol said, “it’s more quiet than Korea,” so I feel this one is true.

2. The food–obviously these are different places and no one does a food like a home country but DAMN. The ramen, the udon, the SUSHI, my god, the sushi, where is this drool on my chest suddenly coming from…? But wow. Japanese food is glorious, full-bodies tastes. From restaurants to home-cooked meals and even convenience store sushi, I never had a bad meal. tumblr_logdznWf4X1qzbb14o1_1280

3. Hot Springs/Onsen: Korea has jimjjilbangs (짐찔방) but while similar to Japan, there are some definite differences, chief among them, not staring. This matters when you’re a very naked, very white, very alone, chubby white girl. If they did stare then they were truly CIA-level because I felt perfectly calm and alone. Also, fun fact–the onsen I went to switched sides every other day. I went on one day and the door was the left one, and the next day, it was the right one! Amazing. However, had I never been to jimjjilbangs in Korea, I would have been quite lost in Japan.

4. They drive on the left side! I guess somewhere back in the deep recesses of my lizard brain, I knew this, but after about 5 minutes of confusion, I realized that something was wrong with the street and it was not opposite day. This did a number on me because not only do you have to be conscious while crossing the street, you also have to be aware what side of the street the bus comes on, an error I made while standing on the right in Fukuoka, watching the bus I was meant to be on drive away. Across the street.

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Anyways, that’s all for this wrap-up–you can see more pictures on my Facebook of foods and owls and temples–I’ll try to sum up the last month here in America this week and we will be *GASP* up. to. date.

ありがとう, Japan–thanks for the best food, and even better people. Especially you, immigration guy. I’m sorry I was shady I DID IT FOR THE POCKET MONSTERS!

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How Not To Start A Vacation: Philippines Style

You know how people are like, “don’t plan out your vacation! Just let it take you where it will and you’ll discover blah blah blah its the journey, not the destination?”

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Such crap. I mean, like, half crap. At least when it came to my Philippines trip.

*sidebar: this coffee shop I’m at right now has an amazing, killer iced Vanilla latte. Think Sonic cup ice and creamy, glorious vanilla tears of a mermaid–it’s great. However, I was like, YES, I would like a chocolate muffin with it and this muffin tastes (and has the texture of) ground up Cheerios boxes. Not Cheerios. The cardboard box that holds and smells faintly of Cheerios. Like, I wouldn’t feed this to chickens my worst enemies anyone. But I bought it so I am damn well gonna eat it. Stupid pride. Anyways…*

Philippines. I finished up my aforeblogged Jeju trip on Monday, May 18 (happy birthday, older bro! You’re 30! I should shut up now!) by flying back to Daegu in the morning, then showering and discovering I’d been attacked by what looked like angry gnomes…I had countless bug bites, scratches, scrapes, tiny sunburn on the tops of my feet (knew I’d missed somewhere…) and the cheesy maiming of my thunder thighs. Everything hurt in that shower. Did I really want to leave the country again for 6 days? I mean, sure, the $168 round trip flight from Seoul to Clark was too Dutch to pass up and I am an adult female woman person who has pride, power and is a badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody so HELL YES we are going to go and…have fun…and whatever. Also, it was my last week of vacation at K.Hogwarts, so I *had* to use it.

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Everyone who knew I was going to the Philippines was all “OH MY GOD EL NIDO EL NIDO PALAWAN (that’s it, right? I have a sneaking suspicious it might be Padawan but that could also be a Star Wars thing) YOU’LL LURVE THE BEACHES” and I’m all, “please look at my skin tone and tell me about how perfect I am for beaches and snorkeling, please.” No. I was going to the MOUNTAINS and having HIKING TIMES and FINDING MYSELF like that lady from Oprah…stuff.

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So I get to Seoul, get on the flight, and immediately, start to have a weird feeling about the trip. Not enough to break aviation law, but I did have a “which sickness gets me off of here without thousands in fines” thought and I will confess to thinking about throwing nuts at a steward but I did not because I am not a chaebol lady pre-apology. I shrugged it off and said to myself “IT WILL BE AN ADVENTURE,” confirm texted my AirBNB host about the car picking me up, and then departed from Korea.

I landed to…nothing. Wait, that’s not entirely correct. I landed, went through customs, whole shebang, got the stamp, got my bag searched, walked out the doors to…nothing. No sign for the car I had previously arranged. No person saying any version of my name, mangled or otherwise. Just looking at about 200 Filipino people looking at me as they were sitting, and waiting, for other people that were NOT me in the 84 degree heat at 11:22pm at night.

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I could not figure out what brand of cross-cultural muckup I had walked into here. I frantically tried to connect to the semi-shady free wifi spots at this tiny, useless airport (that $168 ticket price tag is starting to make sense, isn’t it?) to check my AirBNB app for something, anything from my host to discover why my already exhausted, possibly hungover, bug-bitten, sunburned, cheesy maimed ass was alone in a new country and up shit creek. To add insult to these various injuries, I was an IDIOT and forgot my foreign credit cards. I know. I blame it on the Jeju magic; I’d still been in Korea in Jeju, so I was able to use my Daegu bank cards and Korean ATMS (my Korean cards wouldn’t work here. I checked). I was now in a foreign country with just under $404 in Philippines pesos FOR THE ENTIRE 6 days.

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I used 400 ($9) of my precious pesos to buy a SIM card to contact the AirBNB host, since she’d given me her number to call her in the event of…anything. Nothing like hearing the message “this call cannot be completed as the receiver is either out of service or this number has been disconnected” to make your heart sink. I hadn’t eaten in almost 9 hours, and it was just past midnight and hot and dark and I was, to be frank, scared. Yeah, I was. I was alone, and knew no one in this country. I don’t want to lie to you guys. I wasn’t totally in panic mode, but I’ve seen “Taken” and I couldn’t go back into the main airport without a ticket (which I wouldn’t have for 6 more days) and I was rapidly approaching some unattractive tears. I had no credit card to get any more money, I had no sleep options (this airport is 15 minutes from anywhere), and I was feeling really dumb about the whole trip.

I frantically tried to book different places on AirBNB, since I could use my credit card number online to pay, but since it was past midnight, I couldn’t book for the night I was currently living (18th/19th), but rather the next night (19th/20th). I still hadn’t cried by this point, but this wasn’t a moment of pride for me. In desperation, I posted an SOS on Facebook, which prompted a text from my best friend saying “you know your mom is going to freak out, right?” Yeah, I did. But it felt like a legitimate post to throw up there since I was literally sitting against a wall in a strange airport in a strange land without any plan other than “don’t get kidnapped or robbed or sold into slavery.”

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At this point, a guy wearing an official-ish badge walked up to me and asked in a not-unkind way, “what are you doing?” By now, I’d been pacing around with a constipated look on my face for about 2 hours. It was just shy of 1am and as I blurted out my story, he said he knew of a close hotel. I informed him that I didn’t have much money, which probably was mostly sold by the fact that I only had a small backpack on and smelled like anxiety. He said his job was “taxi chief” and that he knew of a good, cheap place that was safe, including “guard have gun,” which, after living in Korea for so long…is kind of unsettling…but whatever. I’d already created a frightening backstory for a lot of the guys walking around the airport, so the word SAFE SAFE SAFE was circling my head like little Disney birds. He bundled me into a cab (500 pesos) and told me the hotel would probably be about 1200 pesos.

It is possible that in the dark of the cab, to the dulcet tones of 1980s Whitney, that I maybe shed a few tears of thanks and frustration but I hid it real real well under all the makeup I was not wearing. But you can’t prove that.

10 minutes later, upon arriving at a hotel that looked not unlike the motel/gas station from the movie “Cars,” I paid 1400 pesos (you win some, you lose some) and collapsed in twin bosoms of air conditioning and fast, fast wifi and actually, did, cry for about 30 solid seconds. I opened my messages to read replies and tips from friends from all over the world, plus family who was praying for me and a message from a college friend who hooked me up with names and numbers of her dad’s missions contacts in the Philippines. It was almost 2am in Angeles, and I was exhausted in every sense of the word. Despite the fact I was 88% sure there was a lipstick cam in the ceiling (it just had that vibe), I stripped down to my underwear and tried not to think about the sheets as I passed out.

I woke up 7 hours later to some emails from AirBNB customer service (awesome, awesome people) and messages from more people (yet, never ever heard from my original AirBNB host by email, messenger or phone). AirBNB hooked me up with some credits and helped me book a place that night. I spent the rest of the morning lazing about in the air conditioning and watching some form of an “Underworld” movie before deciding to check out and walk to my new place. But since this is getting long, I’ll save the rest of the story for tomorrow–including tips on how not to pee yourself on a 5.5 hour bus ride!

TL;DR First night in the Philippines:

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