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18:25 - Wednesday, Sept. 02, 2015
traveling alone
It occurs to me that I have never traveled alone internationally.

I mean, there have been a few solo plane flights where someone's left earlier or arrived later than mine. I had a dazed, three-legged return flight alone from far-flung rural Indonesia, freshly broken up with and badly jetlagged barely halfway through the ordeal. I was convinced I had appendicitis while sleeping fitfully during a 9 hour layover on my body-sized suitcase on the lush, carpeted floor of Singapore's Changi Airport. This was way before I was familiar with my pattern of anxiety-driven stomach ailments, so the threat seemed very very real.

There was also the delicious flight to Tokyo, where I marveled at the wonder of eating eel don and smoked salmon in economy class, then, sleepy but wide-eyed, managed to find the correct train into Tokyo's Koreatown. I then carefully traced the steps I'd already traced on Google Street View (because my level of overpreparedness is not to be trifled with) and made it to my Airbnb without incident, where Eugene was either there waiting or arrived slightly afterwards - I don't remember which. But either way, that was the end of my solo adventure in Tokyo. An hour or two.

Otherwise, I've been constantly accompanied.

Companions' chatty amazement has run into my spellbound silence, and vice versa, when seeing something shocking or merely alien. Julian scrambled for his camera and snapped away in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, while I slowly rowed our kayak solo and wished for temporary deafness to strike me so all my brainpower could be diverted to my eyes. But in Japan, watching a bunch of elderly women waiting in line to wash a sacred statue, I couldn't keep my mouth shut for analyzing, while Eugene stood quietly, probably wishing for his own version of deafness.

And how many hours have we fought about food? We who? We everyone. Telling Nick I didn't think it was a good idea for us to eat the bleachy tasting shrimp from a suspiciously expensive shady street stall, the only one open on a holiday. Cajoling and compromising with Eugene regarding what ungodly dawn-like hour to get up at in order to have the honor of waiting in a two hour line to eat at Tsukiji fish market. Making Julian sit at my table in Jagalchi fish market in Busan while my fish head twitched in the nerve-throes of the afterlife. Dragging him from Vietnamese to Chinese to Malaysian to Korean to Cambodian street stall, none of whose proprietors had any idea what vegetarianism was (nor any interest in learning). I even made a deal with Camille that she'd put her then-sort-of-nascent vegetarianism on hold to eat shrimp in a tiny town in Mexico as long as it was caught right there, out of the water in front of us. When I think back on my inflexible, uncompromising behavior regarding food, I'm ashamed, but at the same time I know I'd do it again. I'll go to great lengths for the at-times lofty or unlikely goal of having my dining partner love what we're eating as much as I do - even if it means pissing off my dining partner more often than succeeding. It's not something I'm proud of.

I got around in China only by directing Julian to ask people things for me. I was terrified of being separated from him in that brusque country. Even in Dali, a town touristy enough to have a German bakery offering lox and bagels, I wouldn't go further than the next block. There, the unthinkable happened: I gagged at the smell of yak butter tea and Julian had to come to the rescue and drink it for me. Too exotic for me, yet palatable enough for him. The same thing happened with yak stir fry, which was eventually offered to a homeless guy at the train station. Apparently yak is not my cup of tea (rimshot). In Japan, Eugene's hesitant katakana helped a lot, even if neither of us could speak. (I'll never forget the experience of him sounding out 'Coin Locker' over and over again and us taking three weeks to figure out what it meant in English.)

The point I'm trying to get at is that traveling alone will be another thing entirely, and I'm not sure whether I was fully aware of that when I made my flight reservation to Taiwan. I do that a lot, just casually and impulsively make giant decisions at the (sometimes literal) flip of a coin. It doesn't fit in with the rest of my extremely Type A personality at all, but there it is nonetheless. I'm way too averse to loss to change the reservation now, and I wouldn't anyway, because I'm excited about the trip. Maybe it's best, really, that I go where I want when I want, eat what I want when I want, and don't drag any more souls into my weird culinary vortex or inexplicable love of riding aimlessly on trains.

While I have no doubt I'll emerge from the experience stronger in some way I don't - can't - yet understand, I do expect to wish I had someone to share the absurdities and treats with.


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