Change of Pace

Should I be apologizing for my long radio silence? Maybe I should, but I have been working on my “own” website, basically this but slicker. So please head over to:
Rianne db
and check out what I’ve been doing this past month and a half. After this post, I will not be posting anymore on Prism/Winterwolkje – everything will be going on Rianne db, so make sure you check some things out there. I’m focusing more on books, will be posting some book reviews, keep on travelling and also poetry, prose and other fiction writing.

Thank you all for your kind support here!

The Thing with Me & Books (& Writing)

With each new empty post I create, WordPress tells me to share my story, and today I thought I’d share my story about my relationship with books. Because I have one, and it might be a slightly obsessive one. Books are also the reason I started writing. Thinking about books and the words that authors string together to make beautiful sentences after beautiful sentences were among the many reasons I started writing seriously. So this may be a little dedication to all the books I’ve read, have yet to read, and hopefully someday may write.

Cees Nooteboom & Rianne - shot by Rai Poquiz

Cees Nooteboom & Rianne – shot by Rai Poquiz

Ever since I was a kid, I have been familiar around the written word. I remember going on summer holiday each year to a campsite in France or Italy with ten books in my bag (the maximum you could borrow from the local library) and halfway through the holiday, I’d have finished them all and yearning for more. I devoured them and the books didn’t seem to mind. Sometimes my mum would even borrow books for me on her library card so I could take more. “I know you are a fast reader, but this is ridiculous” – an exclamation my parents sigh even today. There was a time, this one time, when I had a silly argument with my parents and I decided to run away from home. Guess what was in bag… books. I never made it further than the end of the street.
At school, I felt overjoyed when we had to prepare a book presentation because I had so many books in my bookcase that I needed to share with my classmates. Note: a lot of my books then were about dolphins as I was completely fascinated by them. As I happily chatted away about this new favorite book and read one of the most exciting passages aloud, ending with a cliffhanger of course, I was already thinking of a new great book I should lay my hungry eyes upon and present to my (plainly bored) classmates. Yup, I was that kid. My writing started to develop as well. Little essays and amateuristic elementary school research projects were my playground. Homework that involved writing was never homework and at night I was writing in my diary – my first step into journaling and blogging. One of the first real stories I wrote was for my brother who was in the hospital and it was about 15 to 20 pages long. I am pretty sure it was not my finest work.

As I grew older I realized that somehow in a strange universe called adolescence, reading a lot of books wasn’t so cool anymore; in a time where being cool was obviously important. However, I always had one or two books on my nightstand. Though in that time I was reading less, I started writing more, mainly because I met some people who were writing down their teenage angst in puberty poems. For some reason, I kept it hidden in countless notebooks with scribbled words, plots, and poems. In my high school language classes, literature was never dull for me. English literature was especially interesting. Reading mandatory books? Yes, please! Many of my classmates never read the books and copy-pasted reports from the Internet (to be honest, I also copy-pasted, but I always read the books from beginning to end). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Le Petit Prince, English poetry from Wordsworth to Sassoon’s World War I words, Kafka’s Die Verwandlung, and Mulisch’s Two Women – they sparked my interest in literature again. Then Christmas came around and hidden underneath the Christmas tree was a book written by my future favorite writer just waiting to be discovered. Haruki Murakami and Kafka on the Shore – my obsession with Murakami was born and continues even today (about a week ago I found a hardcover version of Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage for $5 in a thrift store. I let out a little scream when I found it, but apparently I already have it in Dutch). In my last year of high school, me and my friend decided to participate in a poetry competition called DoeMaarDichtMaar and surprisingly, a couple months later, I received an envelope inviting me to Groningen because one of my poems was amongst the top 100. My mum was so proud of me. A print of my poem still hangs in their… bathroom. Thanks, Mum! For me, this was the stepping stone in getting my work acknowledged and a little dream began to grow in my mind that I have been nurturing for the past five years (with ups and downs, of course).

I started being proud of filling my bookcase and when I moved to Rotterdam to study at the university, all my boxes had at least a couple of books. It has only grown from there. Several bookfairs and birthdays later, me and my parents had the heavy task of transporting all my books back home again (sorry, parents). It has not stopped there. My last visit to San Francisco consisted of going to many second-hand bookstores and thrift stores. In five weeks, I had accumulated about 30 books. This time (I’ve been here now for… five weeks) there are 25 new books stacked in my little corner, ranging from Joyce’s Dubliners, Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries, Jim Morrison’s The American Night, and a 1972 Fodor’s travel guide on Peking.

In my natural habitat - shot by Rai Poquiz

In my natural habitat – shot by Rai Poquiz

Of course, travelling means I cannot carry a lot of stuff (read: books) with me but the beauty of book exchange made me discover and read wonderful new books. Shantaram, The Book Thief, Eleven Minutes… Some books were very hard to let go but the thought of another well-read traveller picking up the book and hopefully enjoying it as much as I did makes me happy as well. There is something interesting about getting to know a country through its literature. I read Orwell’s Burmese Days while travelling in Myanmar and Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere after I visited the Philippines and it helped me understand parts of those countries’ cultures on a different level. Travelling also inspired me to start writing again. Journalling my experiences abroad has had a good and calming effect on me, including this blog. The sheer amount of experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met helped my imagination bloom. If you need any travel advice from me: Always travel with a good book and a notebook.

writing wherever whenever

writing wherever whenever

There is so much out there for everyone. I haven’t read most of the classics; the Dickens, Prousts, Fitzgeralds, and Austens still remain a mystery to me. I have been exploring the wonderful world of words both in English and in Dutch and I have come far but there is more. More words I want to use, more stories I want to write, and more books I want to read. Hopefully, one day, there will be a book, beaten and battered, written by yours truly hanging out in your bookcase. Dream big and read big!

Those Moments of the Past & Present

As the warm sound engulfs my legs and the Pacific Ocean licks my toes, I find myself back in San Francisco, apologizing to myself every single day for not writing this sooner. Yes, it has been quiet and I am terribly sorry. And I am finally taking time in my mind – not wasting my braincells on useless stuff – to pick this up again, because it’s necessary. Not particularly necessary for you, but more for myself. To assess, process… relive the little moments of the past. Even though time is constantly moving forward, I want to stop and stand still for a while. Today is a good day to do that and the beach is a good place to do that. A sunny day in October at the beach in San Francisco with a book that I find really hard to put down (for you curious fellow book-lovers, it’s Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) and several notebooks perfectly suited to capture moments of the past and present.
Sunset at Land's End

A couple of days ago I turned 23 years old and I love all the experiences I have had so far in those short 23 years and I love my desires to continue that in the next 23 years (and hopefully more). From travelling alone through South-East Asia to having “my work” (even though it was just a poem) be published in a book. From finding the best of friendship at the tender age of around 3 years old to finding love at the even more tender age of 22.

My last post celebrated my six months away from home and now it’s already close to nine (!!) months. Being back in a city where mobile phones (preferably iPhones) and start-up badges/t-shirts/bags are extensions of people’s hands and, ultimately, personalities is… great?! Sarcasm intended. San Francisco is an incredible city, don’t get me wrong, there are so many opportunities, but it’s exhausting and if there is one thing I have come to dislike, it is the superficial culture floating in the streets. That is why these little trips to the beach, regional wilderness areas and even empty bookstores rejuvenate me and let me have my moments with the moments of the past. For example; working in a hostel in Taipei for a month. For example; travelling around Taiwan with one of my best friends. For example; being back with someone I admire, respect, and love. For example; realizing how I am starting to miss my family and friends at home and at the same time how I miss travelling around. Though those last two examples are not really moments of the past.

Working and travelling in Taiwan made me realize how much I love the country – even though I could not wait to leave those last few days. The omnipotent internet helped me to  find a lovely hostel in Taipei that needed a hand in return for bed and breakfast. Meeting a bunch of international travellers and chilling in a hostel for free? I’m sold! TravelTalk was my new spot in the city, so if you find yourself in Taipei, make sure to stay there. Together with the awesome manager Jean and two awesome colleagues – one from Malaysia and one from Korea – we made a welcoming team for the stream of mostly Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and American guests, with or without an extra empty suitcase to stuff with pineapple cakes and beauty masks. I’d never thought cleaning beds, rooms and bathrooms was this sweaty, but if it is 35°C with 95% humidity and without air conditioning during the day… Yes, you will sweat. In the hours that I wasn’t sweating and working, I was sweating and swimming, or running, or hiking, or learning to play guitar, or touring travellers through the city, or helping my friend paint the walls of her new hostel (‘BOX’, also stay there when you’re in Taipei!). In general, it was a lot of sweating, but a lot of fun. It did not take long or my Malaysian colleague and I started to discover the ins and outs of TravelTalk and its guests. My mind came to a rest, maybe too much, because at the end I could not think straight anymore and finally one of my closest friends arrived with whom I would explore the country even more. It was exactly two years after I met her in Taiwan and all our inside jokes were still the same. We hopped (or limped) to Gao Xiong on about two hours of sleep, onwards to Kenting, where we had the hostel to ourselves and a scooter with two flat tires (again, the friendliness of Taiwanese people astounded me), to Taidong where we Couchsurfed with a bitchy cat and her human, to quiet Dulan with a shitty beach but awesome scenery, and hitchhiked to Hualien where we had to say goodbye.
Tania & I between Taidong and Hualien

She was going back to Taipei to catch her flight and I had one last thing on my list for Taiwan (for this trip): Taroko National Park. Again, I found a Couchsurfing host and she  introduced me to two lovely Taiwanese girls. They took me to rent a scooter and to a bookstore with two fat cats. The girls already seemed to know me within ten minutes.

The next day we all went to explore the national park. Due to typhoon Soudelor, which directly hit Hualien a couple weeks before, many trails were (partially) closed off. It was very interesting to see how, at the same time, nature can be so beautiful and so destructive. Thankfully, the beauty won over the damage. I could not stop looking around at the mountains and the green that surrounded me, yet I had to keep my focus on the windy road in front of me. It’s not hard to see why Taroko is the most popular tourist destination in Taiwan and now I can finally cross it off my list.
Typhoon blockTaroko National Park
The train took me back to Taipei (unfortunately, I had to skip Yilan) and I said goodbye to Jean, TravelTalk, and Taiwan after buying enough tea and mochi to last me a couple of weeks…

Back to the USA, back to San Francisco, where the home I found has more of my shit than his. Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true, only in terms of books. And life strangely goes on. Just as the drought in California.

I promise you the next one is just around the corner.

A Month in “The City” (version 2.0)

(Because the first version was lost to my fat thumb) Suddenly, I find myself in the United States of America. To be precise; San Francisco. What happened after the Philippines? Did she go to Taiwan? What are you doing all the way in San Francisco?! Yes, a South-East Asia trip has almost converted into a Round-The-World trip, now in the U.S. and later this year (probably September) I can be found down-under, in Australia. Celebrating my six-months travel anniversary here in The City is not so bad, I can tell you.Twin Peaks & Blue Skies

After saying goodbye to the Philippines, I found myself in a plane to my second home – Taiwan. The country where I lived for five months and where nostalgia was waiting for me. Those very first days being back in Taipei, I was overwhelmed by these feelings of so-called nostalgia. Meeting up with old friends, meeting new friends, walking through the streets that I had known so well a year and a half ago; Gongguan & Shida night market, biking through Guting, Daan Park and around Taipei 101… and things just did not feel the same. Of course they shouldn’t; things change, and change is good. But somehow I was missing something and as I was wandering around the city, I soon started to feel restless. Realizing many of my memories were tied to people whom I met in Taipei, people who have moved again from the country, I increasingly told myself: “get the fuck out of here.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Taiwan (I really do!!), but after almost five months of new and exciting experiences, the old gets boring soon and I was not prepared for that. My thoughts were answered with whispering plans. These whispers, however, started to get louder and louder, until they were screaming to take a decision. A bold plan started forming: Korea, then Japan? Japan, then Korea? Just Korea? Just Japan? Japan? Korea? Korea? San Francisco? Japan? San Francisco? Enfin, you get the train of thought and from the introduction you also know my decision. A mere two days before my flight, I booked it. Hooray, hurry, hurry, pack, pack! And those two days later, I was boarding a plane to the United States. So, what made me cross 10,000 km over the Pacific Ocean? Would it be really cheesy to say I did it because of love?

Escaping the increasing Taipei heat, I arrived in a very pleasant temperature of around 22 degrees Celsius (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit for those unwilling to convert). The weather has been quite stable during my stay. Have I been to the city of fog? Yes, but I have yet to see a foggy day. Blue skies and sunshine; whoever said “the coldest winter I ever spent, was the summer in San Francisco” clearly didn’t visit the City in the 2015 drought.Golden Gate Bridge - who said anything about fog?

After a long flight with almost continuous turbulence, I arrived with R. waiting for me. It was strange seeing him again, but also completely natural and wonderful (obviously). To be honest, this was not my first time in San Francisco. Eight years ago, I visited with my family in a U.S. trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. In those years, a lot has changed and I cannot remember a lot from that time, except that it was cold and foggy. What a difference. San Francisco is crawling with so many different characters. Most notably homeless people, hipsters, techies, business(wo)men, immigrants and tourists. Such a vibrant city and there is so much to do every single day that sometimes R. and I just got lost in the apartment. Throwing my stuff everywhere, it almost felt like “our” apartment. Plenty of times we also went out of that apartment, no worries. Just biking around or going camping in Cache Creek Wilderness to escape Fourth of July madness. It was a month in San Francisco as I could never have imagined.Cache Creek Thoughts

A little Dutchie with a little Dutchie

Now, after a month of making many memories, I can look back with a big smile and a big pinch of sadness as well. Riding the hills of San Francisco on bicycles, spotting the Dutchies (as in spotting the wildlife of Dutch tourists), climbing and coffee in Hipsterville, Prison Break, Chinese take-out boxes, music, movies, Minions, laughing, crying, tie-dye, taking photographs, camping, and so many books. A lot of books. And bookstores. And thrift stores. And used book stores where the books are $1 and where you can find little gems like Jim Morrison’s Wilderness and Nobokov’s Lolita. Thank you, San Francisco, for your literally literary paradise. Thank you, R., for being so patient and taking me to my happy places. I wish I didn’t have to leave, but at the same time I can’t wait to be on the road again. So this is what it feels like…

Final count

Looking back on those six months, my life almost seems unreal. I did the most amazing things, met the most amazing people and I managed to develop myself in a way that I feel proud of. Six months ago, I was in the plane towards Singapore, with healthy nervous butterflies coursing through my body. A month later touristy Thailand, complete with Chang, Khao San Road and Thai massages. Another month later, Myanmar, still one of my favorite places, where the smiling people never stopped smiling. Then back to Thailand, this time for ultimate hippie life in Pai and ultimately, more Chang. Three and a half months in and being reunited with my parents in gigantic China was more than great, and a nice break from backpacking life & culture. Then from Hong Kong to the paradise of the Philippines which surprised me every minute. Taiwan never received the honour of the five-month touchdown because two days before, I found my way to San Francisco. And now it is July 20th and I am overwhelmed with memories of places, people and adventures. I can’t help being emotional and grateful, not only to family and friends for their unconditional love and support, but also to the people that brushed the shoulder of my life: the guy who showed me the way in Batad, the Philippines and the woman selling me about a dozen donut sticks for 50 cents in Pyay, Myanmar. Thank you!

For now, I am going to continue growing, learning, travelling, writing, experiencing, meeting and smiling. The world is such a beautiful place and I can’t wait to explore more and more. Over & Out.

Noli me Tangere

Three stars and the Sun

The Philippines is a whole world apart from the rest of South East Asia and it has taken me a couple of days to start liking it. Though when the wonderful Filipino world hits you, you are irrevocably lost to warm welcomes, beaches, rice terraces, smiling people and love. Every country I have travelled to so far is diverse and genuine, it makes me want to cry. I have seen poverty in the Philippines, just a tiny scratch, though it seems like the poorer a country is, the happier  the people are – why is that? I have come to known the Filipinos as people with Asian hospitality and politeness combined with Latino passion. Best of both worlds.
For some reason I was skeptical and even a little bit scared, because of certain stories about terrorist activities in parts of the Philippines. I am a good girl though and smart enough not to travel to those places. So far the people have been very sweet to me, breaking their back in poor living conditions but they always have enough time and energy to crack a wide smile. It is something I have grown to deeply respect.

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The incredible archipel (7107 islands if I may believe my guidebook) is impossible to explore in the 28 days I am there, so picking and choosing my way through the islands – and a lot of flying. For now it has been Luzon (though only Banaue and Batad), Palawan, Bohol and Cebu, with stops in Manila inbetween. Did I give Manila a chance? At first I did not and that may have been very short-sighted of me. Just one day of the Manila traffic and street kids on my first day broke my heart and threw me off. I spend a day in a mall, one of the many malls that sprawl across the city and indeed, the whole country. It is incredible how many malls there are, and not just small ones, no, giant ones, hosting hundreds of stores with as many employees addressing me as “ma’am”. First annoying, but now I look upon it with a kind of fondness – and I try to be as respectful back by po-ing my words (salamat-po Rai, I will work hard on my Tagalog). An overnight bus took me from mall-city Manila to Banaue, where wifi and elektricity were scarce but that does not matter when you’re surrounded by UNESCO World Heritage rice terraces and no ATMs. I survived easily though on the hospitality of the people, once again.
After a couple of days a 12-hour (!!!!) busride took me back to the capital city where I waited to get to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. My flight was cancelled, I met Rai and Allison and was put on another flight, no worries! In Puerto, I met Rai and Allison again when we stayed in the same hostel, together with two Canadians; Jason and Carly. Fifteen minutes later we were booking our way to El Nido, where we were ridden to by a sleep-deprived Filipino driver. El Nido has become a special place, tied with memories of wonderful people, beautiful places and explosions in the sky (or Nick Sparks, whatever you want to call it…). It is made to fall in love. Those El Nido days were filled with happy hour San Migs or rum & cokes, camping on an island with sea turtles, camp fires and a starry sky, and many photos. It was our little paradise. Yet we had to leave it and ventured back to Puerto Princesa. But not before climbing up Mt. Taraw at 5 am on sharp rocks and enjoying the view from above.

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Rai and I decided to go to Iwahig, a prison with no walls where the minimum security prisoners danced, farmed and formed a community. Talking to a few of the inmates count to one of the most interesting conversations of my life. So far I have not talked to someone who killed someone until that day (unless one of you has been keeping this a secret…), though it was incredibly compelling to hear their notions of freedom, how they spent their time and their opinion about life. The prison gave me some new insights, these men, however forgotten by society, are people too and they sometimes have a bigger heart than anyone else.

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Manila got another chance, and a very big chance. I was able to look past the horrible traffic and the heartbreaking streetkids as a essential part of Manila life and experience some other integral parts. Though not for long, because the next day my flight to Bohol was scheduled and the tiny airport of Tagbilaran was the destination for meeting my friend from university days. These Bohol days were relaxing and filled with scooter rides to the Chocolate Hills (and yes, getting lost), seeing dolphins, snorkling with sea turtles, “horizontal” kayaking and many laughs.

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There was a force pulling me back to Manila though and a very strong one. The only obstacle was Cebu, which of course isn’t that bad. With whalesharks and writing it is not difficult to get through a couple of days. So, swimming with whalesharks is incredible but yes… they’re fed, and swarmed by tourists. It’s not natural and it frustrates me that I did it on the one hand… but at least they are free and can do whatever they want – freaking me out from time to time for example. Imagine swimming in the sea and you look back and there is a 5-meter long shark swimming right behind you or under you or next to you. But these gentle giants are harmless and after our assigned half an hour, we left the water with happy smiles.

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Manila, yet another opportunity to explore its streets and I can honestly say now: I like the city. It is diverse, from the high-rising condos in Makati to the garbage heaps in the slums. The gap between rich and poor is so big that you see homeless people sleeping barefoot on the pavement next to Intramuros Golf Club where the rich play their games. The last day was a fancy, but mentally exhaustive day. Rai’s cousin offered us to drive around Manila and show us the real Manila. We could not resist. Through heavy traffic as always, we made our way to Smokey Mountain. What used to be a 8-storey high mountain compound of suppressed garbage, has now turned into a slum. Living conditions? There are hardly any, but there are more smiles here than in the rich business district of Makati. It may have been the most interesting day of my trip, not to mention emotional. Stories of losing children and losing men struck me in my heart. This is the true Manila. Still when I think about it now, I have to swallow the tears down.

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After the slums around Tondo, we went to Chinatown and around Raon, where you can buy anything ranging from CD’s and fake Converse shoes to guns and dildo’s, old beautiful camera parts to whole KTV stations. So much going on, organized chaos as I’d like to call it. And it suits Manila. It suits the people and it has started to suit me.

All in all, the Philippines… Ah the Philippines, so many good memories, so many coincidences that fate starts making sense. It is the land of sunrises and sunsets, of the friendliest people, typhoons, and the greatest mango’s I have ever tasted. Salamat-po Filipinas, see you soon.

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A communist amusement park

That’s how my Dad describes the country of China. Rather than that, I see it as incredibly big, diverse, busy, complex and booming. “Small” cities host about 2 million people, Beijing has 21 million. It seems unreal when comparing to the Netherlands – we don’t have cities over 1 million people and our whole population goes up to 17 million. Absolutely incredible!

My parents decided to come to Asia to meet up with me and travel together for a couple of weeks. No problem for me, free travelling, good food and hotels! Also seeing my parents is not bad either. So, the trip was booked… To China! Fast-forward to the 12th of April, when I flew from Chiang Mai to Beijing and I was reunited with my Mum and Dad!

Criss-crossing through half of China in 2,5 weeks, we have seen a lot in a short time. The Great Wall of China, I guess also the Great Firewall of China, Summer Palace, Ming Tombs, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, the Tibetan Lama Temple… And that was only in Beijing!! I found Beijing to be quite likable though very controlled (7 cameras on one lanternpost at Tiananmen Square might be a tad excessive). A night train took us to Xi’An, where another driver was waiting for us to take us to our fancy hotel. Then it was straight to the Terracotta Warriors. But the best part of the city was the bustling muslim quarter – we couldn’t get enough of the delicious noodles and other snacks sold there. Trying to convey that I’m veggie and don’t eat meat in Chinese everywhere I went is another fun thing, I still remembered quite a lot from my Chinese classes in Taiwan. I’m sure I would make my “laoshi” proud!

A country as big as China makes travelling over land incredibly time-consuming. Since we (at least, my parents) didn’t have the luxury of time, we were forced to take three domestic flights in a matter of a week and a half. The first one was from Xi’An to panda city Chengdu. We arrived late in the evening and were told we were getting picked up very early that next morning… Greaaaat… But it was all worth it:
Pandas, pandas and more pandas for a good half a day. Smiling all the way through the park, even my dad couldn’t resist the cute mischievous little pandas playing around (and to think he initially wanted to skip Chengdu!). The day after, it was time for – you guessed it – another flight. Party Bakker to Lijiang. With view on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, we explored the city on bikes and were swarmed with Chinese tourists once again. A short bustrip to a smaller version of Lijiang, Dali, made us yearning for some quiet countryside. I guess we were done with pushy guides and a brisk walking pace by that time. While Dali is nice, it was yet again overrun with Chinese tourists, THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!* Then on to Kunming by bus, what a drag. Maybe it was because we just had one afternoon/evening in Kunming, but it seemed like just another big Chinese city where they are building like crazy. But then… Then we flew to Guilin and while darkness was setting in, we were driven through the fairytale landscape to just outside of Yangshuo. Wow! Complete peace for once. Easily it became the highlight of the trip!
And what was even better, we had 3 full days there, which we filled with biking, bamboo raft floating (for lack of a better name), cooking, driving around on a scooter and relaxing.

After those three reinvigorating days, our last travel day to Hong Kong with the indeed very fast highspeed train was a long one. First to Guangzhou, where our last driver took us to the other station to catch our train to Hong Kong. A long day but when we finally arrived in our AirBnB apartment, we more than deserved a cold beer.

Due to unfortunate and sad news from back home, my parents decided to try to fly back to Holland as soon as possible. They were able to book a flight for the following day, so we decided to make the most out of our stay together in Hong Kong.
Victoria Peak, Symphony of Lights, Abeedeen and lots of yummy foods concluded our wonderful time together.

Now I’m on my own again, in a bed that’s just a little bit too small, in a hostel around the corner of Mong Kok MTR. China is in many ways severely misunderstood, yet still so far from being a democratic and fair country. Just scratching the surface does not get me near the true center of China one bit and with so many ethnic minorities, autononous provincies and complicated systems, I applaud the person who claims to know the country.
What I do know about China is that it’s beautiful, surprisingly clean and the people are definitely not (as) rude as people told me. It’s quirky in places, it’s rigid in other places and it has a long and proud history. You’ll see me again, China, whether you like it or not!

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*I don’t want to offend any Chinese tourists, it’s just that you are with so many!
**If this post has a weird lay-out, I’m sorry, it’s the first one via my phone.

Paradise of Pai

Meanwhile, in another quiet morning in Pai, I have found time in my doing nothing to write some words.Sitting in the outside common room, listening to the relaxing yoga session going on next to me, my mind and body are at peace (even though I am not even participating in the yoga session). And thank you for that, because Pai plague has already caught four friends by now. Hopefully it will pass me by – I’ve already had my share in Chiang Mai.
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Pai is the most tranquil paradise I have encountered so far. Imagine waking up whenever you want, walking out of your dorm room and of course, the sun is shining. You take your first chill moment and head out for breakfast at Om Garden (obviously). After stuffing yourself with good food, you take your next chill moment and you can do whatever you want. Shopping, renting a motorbike and preferably not crashing and exploring the waterfalls, fake Chinese villages and Pai canyon, reading a book at one of the many little restaurants or just napping all day until it’s time for another favorite passtime: EATING! In the evening, the night market bursts open with opportunities for more shopping, eating pad thai, springrolls, veggie lasagnas, burritos, dried squid, kebab, gyoza, crepes and much more to stuff your face. After gorging all the food you can get your hands on, you guessed it, it’s time for another chill moment before heading off to one of the countless live music venues around to listen to the many talented artists that flock to the village.That is basically your average Pai-day and it’s awesome. It’s a perfect way to charge up before going to China and meeting the parents. “Living by doing nothing” is the slogan – and I have been living by it precariously.
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Basically, Pai is one big great cliché, the type of hippie town where you can easily hang around, where the dreadlocks and tattoos are common, vegetarian and vegan foods are super easy to come by (and generally, the food is to die for), the clothes you can find are standard hippie trousers and tie-dye shirts. So you can imagine – I feel right at home here and I have been smiling every single day again. I will explain why the term again.

After Myanmar, my stomach was still acting funny, resulting in a few running-to-the-toilet times and a discreet puking-in-the-Bangkok-MRT moment. Still in Chiang Mai not a complete 100% yet, and when that was combined with bed bugs, I had my first-ever “wish I was home (or at least wish I had my mum now)” thought. Though, I’m a 22 year old girl, I can take care of myself! So I did and once I got to Pai, I was feeling 100% again. Yay me! This is why I hope I will not catch Pai Plague.

A week left of relaxing in a hammock (which I’m doing right now), eating (which I’m going to do in an hour or two), biking around (maybe tomorrow) and shopping (continuously). I think I will manage.

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Yeah I’ll definitely manage!
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my love letter to Myanmar

Dearest Myanmar,

while I’m sitting in Bangkok, I miss you more than you can imagine. Thank you for welcoming this Dutch girl into your country. I felt your warm arms around me the minute I walked on your soil. Over the past 24 days I have learned a lot about you; about your culture, your food, your landscapes and your people. These words are an ode, a serenade to you, my beloved Myanmar.

I love your extremely loud karaoke & James Bond buses, your bumpy trains, all your different, overcrowded tuk-tuks, your bike-takes that can fit three full-grown Westeners plus one skinny Burmese cyclist and your many, many constantly honking motorbikes.
I love your countless hello’s, mingalarbar’s, how are you’s, only one’s, byebye’s and which country?
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I love exploring your landscapes, whether by foot, by bus, by train, by e-bike, by normal bike, by boat or by motorbike. Motorbike trekking around Kyaukme took me past rice paddies, up mountains and through grassy lands (highly recommended: johnny.inmyanmar@gmail.com ). Whilst the almost 60km trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake transported me from the African savannah to Tuscany, Greece and Spain.

Kalaw - Inle

Kalaw – Inle

Motorbike trekking Kyaukme

Motorbike trekking Kyaukme

Kyaukme
I love your food, even though it had me vomiting one afternoon. I love your Shan noodles, your absolutely mouthwatering avocado’s and the tiniest, sweetest mandarins I’ve ever tasted. Likewise, I love your drinks, Myanmar beer is light and refreshing especially in these temperatures and your fruit juices are to die for. Even your “muscle relaxation” is a part of my love for you. Furthermore, I love you prices. I barely paid more than 4000 Kyat (3,50 euro) for a whole meal and the best dishes were only 500 Kyat (0,45 eurocents).
I love all your temples, stupas and pagoda’s (yes, I know they’re basically the same). The impressive Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon or the temple-dotted plains of Bagan or the unexpectedly beautiful stupa in Pyay or the caverns filled with golden Buddha images in Hpa-an – they all define and enrich you.
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I love all your sunrises and sunsets, and I’ve seen many of them. The most impressive one in Bagan, with all the hot air balloons floating above the hundreds of temples. Seeing the sun turn pink and red reminded me of where I was and how grateful I was to be there right there and then.
Bagan!

Posing fisherman in Inle Lake

Posing fisherman in Inle Lake

I love all your cats since I became friends with many of them. One of the red ones even wanted to join me on my motorbike. Sorry Kira & Mies! SAM_5374
I love your sense of fashion. Combining your traditional longyi with t-shirts adorning Mickey Mouse, Angry Birds or Spongebob Squarepants is a sight to see. On the other hand, your traditional clothes, especially for women, are insanely beautiful – including the towels on the heads of wrinkly old Burmese ladies.
I love how there are no McDonalds, no KFC’s, no Pizza Huts or any other international fast food chains soiling the streets of your cities. This is the second country and it’s liberating.
I love how all the men I’ve talked to know Robin van Persie, especially the monks seem to be football fans. Talking about monks, I love seeing monks drive a car, drive a motorbike, use a smartphone and rocking other technological stuff.
I love your betelnut red smile that appears on your people’s faces when I smile and wave – and almost everyone chews betelnut (including many of the women). And even though it was a big disgusting as well, I got used to your spitting and gurgling and your red spit-filled streets.
I love your notions of friends, family and love – from calling your significant other “doctor” to 528 (friends) & 1500 (love) affection, even though everyone I asked could not explain where it came from.
I love meeting fellow travellers and talking about our mutual love for the country – from sharing a room in a mental guesthouse in Pyay with Sophia (including cockroaches) to sharing homestays with my two different hiking groups (one of which included 4 Israeli’s and Sophie – the most positive English girl I’ve ever met, plus we were an injury-prone group!!).

Yes please! With Sophia

Yes please! With Sophia

But most of all, dear Myanmar, I love your people. I love how generous they are, inviting me inside their homes for tea and cookies. I love how they try to talk to me even though they don’t know English and I don’t know any Burmese. I love getting tipsy with the locals and Sophia, guessing English melodies played by a Burmese guy on a guitar rocking Burmese lyrics to Sweet Child O’ Mine and Love Hurts. I love asking difficult questions about politics, culture and everyday life and getting enthusiastic responses since they can (finally) talk openly about these things. I love talking to young kids in their English class taught by monks in Kyaukme (thanks again Johnny!). I love their curiosity, shyly looking at me and smiling broadly when I recognise them. I even love that they desperately wanted to go on a photo with me – now I’m wondering how many Facebook profile pictures I rock. I love how nobody tried to scam me or rip me off. I love how incredibly friendly every single person is, from taxi drivers to guesthouse owners, from trekking guides to little kids peeking out of their houses.

Though we must have a little talk, Myanmar. There is still a lot in your country that has to change. The fighting, the hate on the muslim minority, the politics… Many things have happened very fast the past years and even though change has been good so far, do not let it get to your head. Tourism will continue to rise and this is a double-edged sword. Meeting a military soldier with a huge rifle in front of our first homestay during the trek in Kyaukme was worrying, though they did nothing except snore very loud. Still it reminded me how close the fighting was. So be careful and watch out for yourself, I’d hate it if something were to happen to you.

Dear Myanmar, I hope I have made my feelings for you clear and even though I was with you for three and a half weeks, I had to leave you. Don’t worry, we will see each other soon.

Yours,

Rianne
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When even the cabin crew take selfies…

… and you get about 5 vendors around you trying to sell you a selfie stick, you (or at least I) flee to your fanned bed. Yes, I’m in Thailand, more specifically Bangkok where the sweat will be running down the inside of your leg in no time. Another reason to flee. Just for a couple of hours with a newly bought book (my bargaining skills are improving!!!) that I chose over Murakami. Yes, I actually picked a book over a Murakami book that I hadn’t read yet (just so you know, Murakami is one of my favorite authors). The thing with Murakami books is that I want to have them, not trade them when I finish. Maybe I realize that I don’t want to trade this book either (George Orwell – Burmese Days), but what the hell.

Anyway, after a couple days in Penang and Koh Phangan, I’m suddenly in a giant metropole and as you can read, I need some time to get used to it. Okay yes, Georgetown might also be a big city, but at least the UNESCO Heritage Site is small, therefore it didn’t feel like a big city. So yes, after a few chill days, it might not have been the best idea to go to Thanon Khao San – a street where the tuk-tuks either run you over or drag you along, where you can get anything a backpacker wants for less than 300 baht and where you will drown in foreigners. I have learned from my mistake!

So yes, my initial plan was to stay in Penang for even more days, maybe go to Pulau Langkawi and then take the train up to Bangkok. This young traveller did not calculate Chinese New Year. So the trains were booked. What to do now? Well, let’s just go to Koh Phangan for some lazy days at the beach and book a cheap-ass flight to Bangkok! So I did just that.
IMAG1059 That’s what I had to deal with for 2 days, not bad huh?
Currently, I have been travelling for three weeks and it stills feels like yesterday that I left home, so I hope it will be a while before I actually will return home 🙂 I have left Malaysia behind me for now, but I still have some places I want to go, so I can at least spend all those Ringgits that I still have in my wallet.

To close it off, some photos of Penang, one of my favorite places so far. See you soon!
Temple in Georgetown   Cat Cafe!
Streetart in Georgetown  Fisherman

Malaysia – truly Asia!

After 50 km of hairpin bends in a bus with constant honking before each bend, I have arrived in the Cameron Highlands where the cool temperatures are a perfect getaway from the dense heat of the cities. Singapore, Melaka en Kuala Lumpur were all really nice, but a week of cities makes me crave for a bit of nature. Thankfully, now I’m in the midst of nature (in long trousers and a vest!!!) surrounded by tea plantations and jungles with apparently the biggest flower in the world (rafflesia). Hooray for the Highlands!

Yesterday I went with a tour and did an awesome hike through the rainforest. About 4 hours walking in (our guide: yeah, I do this whole hike in about an hour and a half on my own; I will do Mt Kinabalu (highest mountain in SEA) to check my fitness for Everest Base Camp) we had conquered the top and walked all the way to the teaplantations. About 800 acres of teaplants! Heaven! And of course, we drank some tea to recover from walking on slippery roots, climbing over and under trees and getting my dreads caught in plants. Apparently the forest sentials didn’t want me to leave. I have a good aura – thank you rainforest!

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So I’ve been on the road for a little over a week and I feel like a beginner. Basically because I talk with my fellow travellers who have been on the road for several months and keep telling me all those places I should see (MYANMAR!) and all those things I should do (canyoning!). Oh well, in a few months I can be the one recommending all those things to new travellers. Malaysia is brilliant though and I feel like many tourists/travellers race through it, some even admitted that. Okay, maybe it’s not as exciting as Thailand but it has so much to offer. Of course, I cannot wait to go to Bangkok, but I’m taking it slow. My plan is to spend 2 more weeks on the westcoast of Malaysia and then heading off to Bangkok in one long-ass train. I will be coming back to Malaysia to do the eastcoast and of course check out Sabah and Sarawak!