How to Torture a Traveler, Part 3

Because my luck is that bad.

I used to love traveling, like the specific act of travel. The thrill you get driving to the airport, successfully passing through security, watching people and trying to match them to their destination.

Well, no more!

Super flattering, post-travel photo courtesy of my dad…

To be fair, I wasn’t as emotionally stable during this last leg between Siem Reap and Orlando as I normally am. I was lugging literally all of my belongings in two HUGE bags and had just said farewell to my best-est friends without knowing when I’d see them again. After checking in and finding a seat in Siem Reap’s ever changing international airport I opened up the farewell trinkets and letters my friends sent me off with. I was simultaneously laughing out loud and blubbering like a baby and boarded my first of many flights thoroughly emotionally drained.

On the bright side, I’ve traveled this route so frequently I am very familiar with all of the airports and know exactly where to go for food and the best nap locations. In Shanghai, I took up residence on a familiar row of seats, set an alarm and waited for the transit desk to open. Oh yea, it was 4 a.m.

Everything started out so well and I dared to dream that I may make it out of this travel experience sans extra (emotional) baggage. I was first in line through security and found an ideal napping space next to my gate and a handy water cooler, which I swear was clearly labeled “Drinking Water”. So I filled up my Nalgene, drank half of it, and settled in for sleep.

An hour or so later I woke up feeling, well, not so great. I was so tired from the previous red-eye plus having not actually slept the night before I departed, that I could hardly keep my eyes open. But I knew I had to wake up, something did not feel right.

My stomach rumbled. I located Starbucks and crossed my fingers that a hot cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin was all my wishy-washy belly wanted. I nibbled as much as I could handle and decided to try and sleep it off.

Barely able to rouse myself for my flight I zombie-trudged to the gate all the while willing myself to keep down the bits of blueberry I’d managed to consume. Nausea came in waves but I held it together like a master of mystery illness until I was all buckled in, ready as I ever would be for this 14+ hour flight.

Just as I began to believe I’d won my intestinal battle another wave washed over me.

“Nope!” I said to myself, less quietly than I had hoped, and reached for the sick bag.

My mind flashed back to the judging looks I had given the passengers on my previous hell-flight as they had emptied their stomachs all around me. Was this karma? Why does karma always pay me back for the bad things? What about the good things, Karma? Karma, why are you such a bitch?

Three bags later the flight attendants were getting a bit tired of my pleas for more ginger ale, especially since I kept getting weaker and had resorted to using the call button.

“Can I get some more sick bags?” I asked to blank expressions.

I mimed vomiting.

“Yes, here.” The attendant handed me a stack.

Eventually, the poison water (it had to have been the water) worked its way through my system and left me even more exhausted, but able to sleep/listen to Harry Potter for the rest of the flight.

Given my recent penance, I thought surely karma would leave me alone now.

While trudging through the Toronto airport, all of my belongings stacked precariously on one of those wheelie carts, I heard an ominous flap flop flap flop. I pulled out of pedestrian traffic as best I could and examined my shoes: my favorite, pseudo-Doc Martens purchased for $8 at a store selling second-hand clothing shipped from Japan, which had seen me through many a bartending shift and been a protective barrier against cockroaches and spiders alike. The sole of my left shoe hung limply away from where it was intended to be. I looked at my sock, visible through the gaping hole and tried to remember where I had packed my other shoes.

After rummaging through all of my bags I located a pair of moccasins (also purchased at the Japanese second-hand store) and lovingly placed my boots in the nearest bin.

“So long, my loves…” I whispered as I walked away.

Stripped down to my last layer after working up a sweat during Operation: Shoe Location, I lugged my bags towards my last customs check.

“You must be going somewhere warm, eh?” The agent asked, eyeing my tank top, which was obviously not suitable for the outside Toronto winter.

“Yes sir, I’m going home.”

Unemployment is the worst

For some reason, I frequently find myself in very uncomfortable situations. Not just of the socially-awkward variety but, “What kind of decisions have I possibly made in my life to end up in this pit of misery?” type. To be completely honest, they aren’t always literal pits of misery. Mostly a state of mind made up of crippling self-doubt and panic-inducing fear.

Although one time I did not have any money and had just come off a million hour flight and lived of granola bars and didn’t shower for a solid four days… So there was that… I think the last time I had gone that long without showering was during my roadie-ship and was living out of a van and we were so busy showering was just kind of forgotten. But enough about my lapsed hygiene practices…

The last time I wrote (let’s make a pact not to add up how long it’s been, ok? Ok.) I was in one such spiral. My ex had just moved away, and while things ended amicably it’s a bit destabilizing when someone you’ve spent practically every moment of the past five months with is no longer around. I suddenly had all of this free time to think about what my plan was. I was definitely living comfortably thanks to a couple full-time freelance gigs but wasn’t earning enough to save anything (or even get home).

I’ve mentioned before how expat life in Cambodia seems to cycle through people. About every six months or so someone new is showing up while old friends move on. At this point, my little community was prepping for another such exodus. Those with higher-paying jobs were considering moving to new, nicer apartments while the few with free time were considering life as nomads for while. My best friend already had her flights booked home before starting a graduate program in Australia. Things were changing and I decided it was best to jump on that train, too.

Thanks to hindsight, I can laugh at my naivety upon returning home. My new “plan” had been to relax and enjoy the Christmas festivities with my friends and family and then crack down and find a job, surely by the end of January, because that’s when my new phone plan bill was due and once again I was without a steady income.

My one-month job hunt turned into two, then three, then four.

I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression. I’m really good at being upbeat and talking about how magical everything is, but when I’m down I get really down. Every day I applied for jobs after thoroughly researching the each company and writing unique cover letters. I was putting in the effort. And crickets. For every 20 jobs I applied to, maybe MAYBE I would get one response back. At this point, even the rejection letters became a reason to think positive because at least I was hearing something. But even those were few and far between.

Every day was an endless span of potential disappoint. It became harder and harder to look on the bright side. Despite knowing my parents are super supportive and would do anything to help me out I was keeping a running tally of everything I had asked for and could only seek such help after working up a really good anxiety attack. After bleak periods I’d snap out of it for a week or so, somehow tapping into some new source of motivation and positivity making all the past despair seem silly and unnecessary. And then out of nowhere, the dread would be back, like an elephant sitting on my chest. I’d stop showering regularly because for some reason that’s the first habit to go…

I went on a few interviews. They’d see the gap in my employment after I left Cambodia and ask what have I been doing the past few months. Like a punch to the gut. Like I’d been twiddling my thumbs since January and not actively, desperately seeking employment. Each rejection, especially from jobs I’d been over qualified for made me question the time I spent abroad. It was as if those two years, during which I had worked the hardest and overcome the most, meant nothing in the eyes of recruiters.

I started seeing a therapist and struggled to find ways to describe my feelings: I can’t find work, I’m questioning my self-worth, I just can’t get out of bed in the morning, but I’m also having a hard time processing everything I’ve experienced the past several years. Herbal supplements didn’t help. I started anti-depressants. It somehow made me feel better to think that my depression was stemming from a chemical imbalance and was actually out of my control. I’m type-A. I felt like I could take depression off my plate if that makes sense. Something that isn’t my fault. Medication helped calm the swirling negativities that had been distracting me, but I was still jobless.

My parents and I discussed how best to move forward. Up to this point, I had been driving my dad to work so I had access to a car for days I had interviews and we decided having a car of my own might take some of the pressure off. They helped me with the down payment and from that point on it was like dominos.

The day after my 26th birthday I had a very promising job interview and the following Friday I received an offer. I could breathe again. I could afford my new car payment.

I’m lucky. I have incredibly supportive parents who never made me feel like I was a burden during my unemployment. I have friends who were always encouraging. I’m grateful that even though those six months sucked it was the kick-in-the-pants to get myself into therapy and start examining the thoughts that hold me back.

Now that my life has some sort of structure again I’m able to think more clearly and without (as much) anxiety about what I want. I’m saving to travel again. I’m building my portfolio. I can dream about all of the possibilities of the future instead of just dwelling on the past.

Not to say that employment has been a magic wand waved over all of my issues. I still have plenty of those. But I’ve learned (and continue learning) ways to give myself a break. We all need to give ourselves a break sometimes.

So here’s to finally dusting off the motivation to write again. And to regular showers.

How to Survive a Juice Cleanse

A while ago I did a juice cleanse. This is how it went.

Taking the plunge

I know what you’re thinking, “Cleanses and detoxes don’t work!” Believe me, I am well aware cleanses and detoxes are heavily disputed. For every article I read touting the magic of going liquid-only for a few days I’ve read one detailing how ineffective it is and how dangerous cleanses can be. I really wanted to have all of/most of (because I get lazy) the facts before writing anything about the science behind juice cleanses and detoxes so I Googled, “scientific research AND juice cleanses” and the top few pages were all titled along the lines of, The Juice Cleanse Myth or Detoxing: The Truth Behind the Fad. I know of someone who passed out trying to train for a marathon while on a juice cleanse. I mean, that’s dumb. I’m confident enough to state that I’m not dumb. I may be on a juice cleanse, but…..

I’m also the type of person who likes to believe in unicorns and the magic of Disney despite my rational, scientific mind so I decided to give this whole juice thing a go. You know, just for kicks (and self-induced torture).

Since I live in Cambodia and it would take months to never for a program to send shipments of pre-made juice, my friend, Elena and I signed up to a program run by The Hive, a local coffee house. The Hive’s menu boasts a number of “a la carte” juices for a variety of ailments as well as several different “juicing” programs for the bold at heart, ranging from the “Casual Cleanser” to “Mega Cleanse”.

Lucky for us, all juicing programs were 20% off through the month of July. Being poor and only motivated by sales Elena and I decided now was the time to stop all of our talk and actually do it. We’re both really healthy people. Sure, we eat our fair share of cheese, but as a whole aren’t really big on the whole meat and dairy scene. We exercise, eat tons of vegetables, actively search out ways to replace chemical-filled products with natural things (although my boyfriend, Kyle would probably appreciate it if I gave up the natural deodorant…) and while Elena has been drinking camel-enviable amounts of water for years I am quickly catching up.

Elena signed up for a longer, five-day cleanse in which she replaces two meals a day with juice, eating something light, like a salad for lunch. Since I was going to be out of town for a day or two I signed up for the shorter “Mega Cleanse” and replaced all three of my meals with juice*.

*On The Hive’s program you replace one meal with two juices, one “heavy” and one “light” for a total of 24 ounces of liquid.

Juice Cleanse

Just some background on why this was such an ill-formed plan (besides the general, “juicing is bad”):

I have a REALLY fast metabolism. I eat A LOT of food at a fairly constant rate and I’m not large by any definition. My Mom used to joke that I have a tapeworm. True, most of the food I’m eating copious amounts of are like, veg and hummus or gluten free, vegan oat cookies. Once I was vegetarian for about a year, which wasn’t that big a deal because I eat very little meat anyway, but I was definitely missing out on some types of fats and proteins because my roommate was literally scared to talk to me I was so grouchy.

I also forayed into veganism for six weeks. Elena and I decided to try it out a while ago after watching a documentary on America’s food industry. Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as being vegetarian because I was way more informed about how to eat a balanced diet and had to think about what I was eating a lot more than before. The only problem, Cambodia isn’t very health-issue friendly. Almost everything is cooked in fish or oyster sauce and if you order something without meat, they usually throw in an egg and look at you like you’re crazy.

One last thing, I get hangry. Like, I am probably where that term originated. Whenever I’m home my parents carry “cranky crackers” because they know if I get hungry before the allotted meal time I will become unbearable.

Over the three-day “cleanse” I learned quite a bit about my body, how to take care of myself, how to juice in a manageable way, and what to expect on a liquid-only diet.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

This is the most important. I am very competitive and have a tendency to over do things just so I can feel like I’ve won. But on a juice cleanse, no one is really winning, except for the person/company taking your money. I started out wanting to go full on, but shortly after my first juice meal my stomach started growling. We began our cleanse over the weekend so we wouldn’t murder our coworkers, but that also meant a lot of free time to think about being hungry and meet-ups with non-juicers who will inevitably want to eat something.

I ended up eating the Detox Salad from Sister Srey, which is basically just a pile of raw vegetables so I decided not to feel bad. My body just needed something to munch. Plus, I drank an espresso and knew that wouldn’t go down so well without a stomach buffer.

Listen to your body.

Having done food/diet experiments in the past I am pretty aware of my body’s needs. I can tell if my hunger pangs will be suppressible or will turn me into a raging rage monster. Juicing was a fun (I use that word lightly) challenge, but at the end of the day you have to listen to your body.

If you feel like you’re going to kill someone, EAT SOMETHING! There were way too many moments when I felt like I was going to burst into tears because I was so hungry and exhausted overall. When Kyle was trying to figure out where to get lunch I snapped, “Well I’m not eating so I can’t make the decision for you!” And then almost cried. And ended up eating his side-salad.

I ended up eating something once a day, whether it was a salad or homemade “cookies” with banana, peanut butter, oats, cranberries, matcha, and black sesame.

You will be tired.

Getting up in the morning was the hardest thing. I don’t eat breakfast as regularly as I should so I’m used to getting up and not “eating”, but getting up having not physically eaten anything the night before was a feat. Usually, when I’m tired I turn to my old friend, coffee but was wary our relationship wouldn’t be as compatible on an empty stomach. Despite usually taking my coffee black I switched it up and added some chia+quinoa milk and a spoonful of cinnamon to make it a bit less harsh, plus cinnamon is supposed to help regulate your sugar absorption.

Not all juices are created equal.

My favorite juice was the Ultimate Veg, which contained pretty much every vegetable you could imagine.

While some juices are downright delightful, one or two taste like, “biting into a compost heap” according to Kyle. Broccoli, kale, and celery tend to have that effect when mixed in liquid form.

Try something new.

I used this as an opportunity to get over my very deep-seated issues with celery. I hate it. Unfortunately, my opposition to the primarily water-filled veg limited my juicing options. So if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. While some juices were a bit celery-heavy and hard to swallow there were one or two that were pretty delightful. Although I don’t see myself munching stalks anytime soon, I’ve definitely opened my horizons to include celery-plus-a-lot-of-other-things juices.

Your body will change.

It’s been a few weeks since I “cleansed” (I’ve been busy, ok…) but my body is still recovering. I have zero tolerance for cheese anymore. I think I’ve always been a bit lactose sensitive, I don’t eat a lot of dairy besides cheese but I just can’t anymore. I still eat it, don’t get me wrong, I just regret it immediately.

Shortly after I finished the juice cleanse Kyle and I went to Laos and my body was definitely in no mood for an 8-hour van ride… I was having trouble keeping anything in my stomach for long (probably due to lack of fiber). Elena was experiencing the same difficulties and talked to a doctor who guessed she had a parasite but had already flushed it out with all of the water + juices, so there wasn’t much she could do about it. So maybe I did have a tapeworm after all?

I’m in the process of finding a diet (not the lose weight kind, the general foods you put in your body kind) that works for me, most likely no dairy, lots of veg, and the occasional meat product until I find an adequate protein substitute.

To cleanse or not to cleanse?

My take-away, juicing is a great way to get a surge of vitamins but as an add-on to a healthy diet full of actual food. I don’t see anything wrong with the occasional meal replacement, but only if you are eating healthfully to begin with, not as a detox after a weekend bender.

Plus, food is just too good to give up.

Moments Awkward People Living in Cambodia Will Understand

Apparently, there is an Awkward Moments Day (March 18), and in true, incredibly awkward person fashion I missed it and will insist on celebrating late anyway. One of my favorite websites posted a listicle featuring “19 things only truly awkward people understand”. I laughed out loud at the relatable-ness but felt I needed to add a few (some more SE Asia specific) moments of my own.

Yes, these have all happened to me.


Moments Awkward People Living in Cambodia Will Understand

Always being sweaty. As an awkward individual, I’d hazard a guess that I break into nervous sweats more than the average person. Interact with a cute boy? Sweaty palms. Making a phone call to someone you don’t know? More sweat. The thing is, Cambodia is rather hot so not only do you get nerve-related sweats but also you’re just constantly sweaty anyway. Can they see how much my face is sweating? If I stand up now will they be able to tell I have butt-sweat stains? Yes. Yes, they can.

Queen waving. This is my specialty. I strongly dislike hugs or being touched in general so throwing someone a casual queen-wave has become my signature greeting/leaving move. Once I was recounting a not-so-great date to my friend and she asked, “You didn’t queen wave, did you?” I guess it’s becoming a problem.

Night buses. Aside from the obvious danger, night buses are a hotbed for disasters. One company provides single “beds”, ideal for women traveling solo, but for those of us riding budget-class we’re most likely going to end up next to a stranger and 90% of the time said stranger is a middle-aged man eating snacks trying to chat with you about the book you’re reading. Even if you weren’t essentially sleeping next to this person, this would already be an awkward situation. But now you’re in a reclined position, wrapped in a blanket, trying to squeeze as close to the window as possible, basically sharing pillow talk with a man you’ve never met before. Not ideal.

Flip flops. I spend a lot of time standing at work and have developed this habit of slipping one shoe off while I rest one foot flamingo-style against the opposite leg. This works great until I have to get out of the way or have to move to take a new arrival’s order, in which case I fumble to get my shoe back on, tripping over myself as I do so. Always. I bought a pair of knock-off Doc Martens the other day so problem solved for the time being. Now I just clomp around like an over-confident horse.

Dating. Ever since I started working in an expat bar I can’t go anywhere without running into someone I know. A few weeks ago I was on a date and ran into a few of our regulars who preceded a line of questioning my dad would have been proud of. When I showed up for work the next day patrons I hadn’t even seen the night before were asking me how the date went. Even if you don’t run into people you know, dating in a small town doesn’t really work. Everyone is either here for 3 days or 6 months; basically a recipe for stunted emotional development.

Cheek kisses. Siem Reap is an expat haven. People from all over the world have chosen to hunker down here, bringing their own customs with them. Unfortunately, most of the foreign residents hail from European countries meaning the dreaded Faire la bise. I always, ALWAYS miscalculate. I’ve left people hanging after one and more horrifically, gone in for a second. Apparently, the numbers are regional. How am I supposed to know!? Can I just awkwardly queen-wave at you from a distance?