Sunday, June 11, 2017

Being Rich has Nothing to do with Money

Eleven years ago I watched as my mother took the leap from corporate America to creating her own small business. This took courage, self-confidence, and hard work—but what she’s built in brick and mortar, in community, and in personal growth and happiness is something that no desk job could have ever given her—a feeling of achievement, pride, and a real genuine love for what she does.

Immediately I knew that I too wanted this. The freedom, the passion, and the ability to create something out of nothing, and more than anything to make that something incredible.

On July 1st I’m excited to be taking the first step in not only following in my mother’s footsteps, but also in making this dream a reality.

The best part. I’m not in it alone. I am fortunate to of course have my mother as a mentor, but also an entire support system spread across the globe. As an avid traveler I’ve spent many of my adult years living abroad, currently I am enjoying the island life in Southern Thailand. But it is also through this nomadic lifestyle that I’ve learned the importance of roots. And I couldn’t be more happy or proud to be laying roots back in my hometown.

About Sparrow+Mason, LLC
Our boutique shop has tailored it’s product lines to appeal to the 25 to 40 year old demographic. We carry men and women’s clothing, accessories, home décor, jewelry, and uncommon gifts. Each item is hand-picked, offering a taste of local, national, and global products.

Named after our two rescue dogs, one saved from the streets of Thailand and the other from a dumpster in Jefferson County, Missouri, we are committed to sharing a portion of our annual proceeds with animal rescue organizations in both locations.

The Sparrow+Mason Team
Jenna Smith—a Windsor High School, University of Kansas, and Webster-London MBA graduate, she seeks adventure where it can be found and enjoys experiencing new cultures, countries, and most of all new people.

Ulick Cady—a native of D.C. and newbie to Midwestern mentality and customs, he enjoys island and city life, but feels home is truly where the dogs are.

Sara Roe—a Windsor High School and Missouri State graduate with a degree in fashion merchandising, has an eye for fashion and style, while her other eye is focused on her two little boys (and husband). Her experience includes buying, merchandising, and allocations with LA-based companies (BCBG Max Azria, Skechers) and St. Louis-based companies (Bakers Shoes, Scrubs & Beyond).

The Smith Family—Betteanne is the owner of Mississippi Mud Gallery and Gifts, also located in Kimmswick, MO. She and Jenna wouldn’t be where they were today without the love and physical support of their handymen and accountant, Mike (father) and Drew (brother).

Upcoming Event: Grand Opening + Reopening + Anniversary Open House
Join us on Saturday, July 1, 2017 as we celebrate Sparrow+Mason’s grand opening along with Mississippi Mud’s Grand Reopening in their new location as well as their 10th Anniversary. 

The joint festivities include: ribbon cuttings by Mayor Phil Stang, drawings, door prizes, drinks, and discounts.

Like us on Facebook and Instagram!


Monday, January 16, 2017

My life is weird…or just not exactly 2017?

My life is weird…or just not exactly 2017?

Today, or in the past week, for example, I have:
  • Seen a dead, bloated cat on the side of major road…that apparently no one else sees (or cares to see);
  • Eaten food from a non-health inspected restaurant or cart…and loved every minute of it (and not died);
  • Urgently pooed in a few of the least convenient places known to man (not related to the above meals);
  • Ridden a bicycle through Bangkok traffic (you haven’t fully lived until you’ve experienced this);
  • Trusted a random cab driver, alone, on the darkest of roads you’ll ever see;
  • Spoken with more immigration officials than friends or family; and,
  • Been without a constant connection to Wifi.

I will now, in full disclosure, say that this blog post is based off the needy, over-entitled customers I have been dealing with in the last week.  In no way do I think the life I’m living is special, lucky, or even worthy of sharing. This has all been written by just taking a step back from these customer-related questions and accusations and thinking…What? Is this real life today? Is this is what you (and others) really think and feel?

However, I do think that my current living situation and how I enjoy life at it’s most is more conducive to an old soul (though probably just circa 1998). Because in the past year I have loved my life and never once have I ever thought about any of the below as being hindrances to anything I can and will ever achieve.

I have:
  • Lived without Facebook (clause: I’ve just recently re-activated for Journey…but have not looked at one personal newsfeed);
  • Taken more buses than almost anyone you know (think Greyhound…or worse);
  • Smelled some of the most horrid smells you’ll ever imagine (and not vomited);
  • Made a bicycle my primary source of transportation;
  • Owned only flip flops, no proper shoes;
  • Lived in a one bedroom tiny studio with zero amenities (still do);
  • Created an entire social life around tourists (who leave) and old, retired men (who mostly speak Thai);
  • Decided I will not be having a human baby, only a babies in the forms of buildings and Thai dogs;
  • Made friends with some of the most awesome planet wanderers in the world;
  • Gone days without electricity;
  • Realized that most of the entire world lives in something smaller than the size of a studio apartment (with more than 1 person mind you);
  • Seen life leave families from natural disasters;
  • Spent days on deserted islands;
  • Not known who any of the people I read about are on the E! website (and not even cared to follow up); and, have
  • Travelled to more countries in one year than many will reach in a lifetime.

This life is not for everyone. Do I sometimes miss the comforts and easiness that 2017 brings – of course! I mean finding out that one restaurant on the island takes online food delivery orders was somewhat life changing (and fattening).  But, do I also value a life where I spend a great deal time offline, where forms of payment are only in cash (zero debt), and my commute is 15 minutes along the sea. Of course.

I’m not comparing anything. No life is greater (or better) than another. However, what I’ve come to learn is that in today’s easily accessible (at the touch of your finger) world – we may be forgetting a few things.

Like actually how to live.

This past week I read a book that I will recommend to others, “The Road to Character.” Put it on your list (or at least the first half and the last chapter). There are quite a few historical accounts, along with explanations of today’s everyday dependence on being loved (by everyone and everywhere) that will hit home.

From reading it, and living the last 14 months on an island, I will say, we could do with:
  • A little less connectivity, and a lot more alone time, pen to paper brainstorming, and original thought.
  • A little less fear, and more trust and genuine friendliness.
  • A little less money, and a lot more true experiences.
  • A little less jealousy, and a lot more actually doing.
  • A little less protectiveness (of ourselves and ones we love), and a lot more “live and let live.”
  • A little less “online love”, and a lot more real love.

And finally, we could do without quite a few of our everyday comforts, and do with a lot more character.

My resolution this year is more alone time. Completely and utterly alone. No distractions. No devices. Just myself. It’s not easy – I’ve had quite a few recent “forced alone times” and at first you feel fidgety and weird, but then it all makes sense.

There’s a reason so many inventions, great works of literature, and life-changing theories were created, pre- present day technology. They had the time and the space to sit there. And think.

So think about that. And think about spending (and enjoying) a bit more time alone today.

But don’t log off before liking and/or following our new hostel which is opening soon!  We are currently on Instagram and Facebook, with a website to come. But more importantly, plan on coming to see us and actually “experiencing and doing” Koh Lanta!


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Why Not?

I’ve never really planned out my life. I’ve never really been one of those people who was going to do x by this age, and be y by this age.

I’ve always tried to do what will make me the happiest at that moment and point in my life. Whether that’s taking a job in my hometown, spending a month working remotely in Costa Rica, traveling across India volunteering on my own, or moving back to Thailand.

Selfish and irresponsible, maybe. Rewarding and character-building, most definitely.

My entire adult life I’ve gravitated to living for the present future, rather than the actual future. And with that I’ve had very little regard for the far future – which we all know involves retirement savings, health insurance, investments, and all those little adult things one is supposed to do.
I guess you could say I’m living life “the easy way”…

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”—Lao Tzu

With this lifestyle comes both anxiety and great opportunities. Luckily I’ve learned to somewhat control my anxiety, by being a day-to-day insane planner, and by doing so I’ve been able to open my eyes to the multitude of opportunities around me.

A year ago, when I first moved back to Thailand, it was my sneaking desire to somehow become a travel blogger. By working and interacting and networking with them, I thought “hey I’ll learn from you and be able to do that too (and maybe even better)”…now, after 12 months of meeting more than 40 travel bloggers I luckily know that is not my calling. Yes, I love traveling. Yes, I love writing. And more than that I love the thought of being paid to do both. However, I hate the thought of promoting and taking pictures of myself. But most of all, I hate the thought of experiencing a new culture, new country, or new experience with the pressure of having to write about it. You lose that sense of curiosity and become too focused on getting that perfect photo.

With this newfound realization in hand, that’s how we get to the one night in a non-touristy town on the border of Malaysia, a craft beer in hand and me hearing the words come out of my mouth, “Why not?”

“Why not open a hostel together?” “Why not work for ourselves?” “Why not build a life on an island I love?”

Why not…?!

So that’s where my current life journey stands. We are opening a small hostel with Thai partners on the island. Did I think it through fully, probably not as much as most people would. Did I jump at the chance to have something to call my own and be passionate about, most definitely. Am I ridden with apprehension and anxiety, of course. But, have I ever been more excited about anything in my entire life, not at all.

So, why not?!

Construction of our small hostel started last week, I’ll be sure to keep everyone up-to-date on the progress. The plan is to be open in January 2017. We were given the task of naming the hostel and after much deliberation we came up with “Journey”.

Life is a journey. So why not enjoy it, and share it.


Journey on!



Thursday, August 18, 2016

TITS

This. Is. Thailand. Shit.

And that “shit” can go either way, like most cuss words, “Shit – yeah!” or “Shit…SHIT”.

Living in Thailand makes you realize just how many rules you are used to living with and following. Here, for the most part, nobody cares what you do or how you do it.

It’s freeing. And weird. And somehow seems to work.

Too often I catch my inner self whispering, “but what if we get stopped/caught…” or “why isn’t anyone saying something to us about what we’re doing…” And then you remember…TITS.

You want to drive on the wrong side of the road? Fine. Just do it with caution. You want to build a beach bonfire, or any fire? No permit needed. You want to pee in public? Why not? Everyone does it. You want to set up a shop on the side of the road? You go girl! You want to drink outside a convenient mart (aka loiter) until all hours of the night? Well duh, the beers are much cheaper and most of the bars are closed by now anyway. TITS!

Thailand is very good about just letting people live. Do what you want. Just don’t hurt anyone else.
I mean take a public bus and just see how many random objects and stops are allowed. One of our last rides had a huge air conditioning unit smashed in with us and an actual bus stop, unheard of. Or as the Thai’s would say “Unseen in Thailand”. You want off, just speak up and the driver will immediately pull over on the side of the highway and wait for you to awkwardly maneuver your way out of the crammed mini-van.

At work and hungry, but don’t want to just “eat at your desk”? Why not lay out a mat on the floor of the airport terminal in front of your shop and invite all the other shop owners to join you for lunch down there. Not “unseen” in Thailand.

Or, just don’t feel like opening your shop, restaurant, or guesthouse today? Or for 4 months. No worries. And why bother putting up a sign explaining how long you’ll be closed.  

What? The 3:30 “scheduled” bus isn’t running today? “Why?” “Don’t know.” TITS. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why they cancel. But they do. And they won’t bother telling you until you ask. Even if you’re holding a ticket. TITS.

Addresses are also basically “unseen” in this country. I’ve asked our favorite bar owner to give me his address so I can create a TripAdvisor listing, it’s now been 3 months and several reminders and he still doesn’t know what it could be. How the postal system operates, I’ll never know. Surely letters aren’t addressed as: “Go down the main road and it’s just past the third 7-11 on your left…”

There are a few actual rules but of course they are meant to be bent and definitely broken (or just not enforced). Last week there was an election (which weirdly no Thai could explain what it was about…which was apparently done on purpose); however, the night prior to the election the sale of any alcohol was prohibited. This rule goes back to when it was commonplace for politicians to buy the vote with free alcohol and a lot of inebriated voters.

Of course we were easily able to find beer: “You selling beer tonight?” “Of course, why not?” “The election…” “Ah, no problem!”

And often what’s even funnier is seeing that they continue to create new rules that will be broken and unenforced.  That same week it came out in the papers that playing Pokemon Go near any polling station was a fineable offense. As if anyone would ever call you out on this. TITS.

Around here you definitely get that feeling of cowboy country meets self-controlled chaos. Because basically that’s what it comes down to. All of your decisions are made not based on the fear of punishment, but on actually using some brain cells and deciding for yourself if what you’re about to do makes sense at that moment in time. Now, more often than not, most Thais will still do whatever they were intending to do, no matter if it makes sense or not. TITS.

A part of me congratulates the Thai people for just living and letting their people live. Because I do like a cold, cheap, beer while loitering.

The other part of me is untrusting of every individual on the road, but learning to again be patient, more laidback, and accepting that this is another culture. But not another world…TITS.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Life is Simple. Just add Water.

And lots of it. Living on a Thai island isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. In fact it’s a lot of intense sun for nine months and then it’s not. Then, it just rains. And here, the saying “when it rains, it pours” could not ring any truer. I have never seen rain like this. Forrest Gump was spot-on when he talked about the rain in Vietnam.

One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain…and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night…

I can definitely say, we’ve seen all of these types of rain and more. Along with this rain (and the intense heat of months prior) comes blackouts. Electricity failure is common due to all the illegal connections to the grid, so when it’s too something it just shuts down.

So we’ve learned to live with rolling blackouts and all that comes with having no electricity (no air conditioning, fans, wifi, lights, TVs, computers, etc.). We’ve also learned to live with (and sometimes love) many other things that at first seemed like you just can’t live without them, or with them. But, when you have no other options (literally) you can. And you will. And most likely you’ll have a much better experience (or a good story to tell) in their absence or presence.

Take for example the other day I did one of those “just so Asian” things that I’ve always chastised as being so dangerous while also questioning the person’s brain capacity. And I lived. And only got half as soaked had I not rode my bike one handed with my umbrella up the entire time. I had no other options. And in fact I may have even enjoyed it bit…it felt very Mary Poppins like—so no more judging!  But now I do get it. When it rains and you have to be somewhere…you gotta do what you gotta do. At least I didn’t do the total donkey move and put a clear plastic bag all the way over my head to protect me from the rain (now you know who those suffocation disclaimers on the bags are for).

Living on this semi-remote island also leaves you with limited options. Beer, sure there are 3 choices and they all taste the same (like Bud Light).  Food, sure there are two choices Thai food (rice or noodles) or shitty Western food. Wine, yup there’s wine but it will cost you an arm and a leg for a crap bottle of wine that is just $4 in the States. Things to do, absolutely!  If you like the beach…or eating (see above choices)…or drinking (again, above are the choices)…or dodging rain drops, giant muddy puddles, and being splashed by cars while going anywhere…or baking in a sun so hot that you’re always wet with sweat or are on a mission to find the closest AC or body of water…then yes, Lanta is the place for you!

I kid. For the most part.

In truth, this island has some of the most gorgeous beaches, views, and nature you can find in all the world, and it’s all right here on this tiny piece of land in the middle of the Andaman Sea.  And I’m grateful everyday of my life that I’m part of it.

However, we are still living on an island. An island in the tropics. Which, surprisingly, has quite a bit of that isolation feeling still going for it.

We had avocados available for 2 glorious months. We have no clue what the latest movies may be as we most definitely do not have a mall, a theater, or really any resemblance of an enclosed (non-bamboo) shop beyond the bajillion 7-11s. We tell time by the sun (Literally. It rises at 6 am and sets at 6:30 pm. Everyday). Our internet connection is limited to when we’re at home or eating out. Credit cards are not accepted as a form of payment, only cash. And there is an entire menagerie of animals around every corner. In the past week alone we’ve seen: monkeys, giant monitor lizards (think komodo dragon), birds of prey out hunting, a beached dolphin, a dead capybara (Ulick saw that one alone), crabs, house geckos, fish of all kinds, baby squids or jellyfish (unclear), snakes, frogs, rats, turtles, weird living barnacle urchin things, and of course the street packs of feral dogs and cats.

While we may be isolated, we are definitely not alone. There’s a small town vibe going on here—I wave at the same people (and dogs & cows) everyday on the way to and from work—the water man, the ice man, the man in the wheelchair, the old lady with the eye patch, the pharmacy woman who is always buying fried chicken at 8:15 am, the man delivering the fish, the guy we bought our motorbike from, etc.—and having this very “same same” routine day in and day out is weirdly comforting and refreshing.

We know our neighbors. We have a local bar. We spend quality time together. And we have time to dream. What more could you ask for with life.

I’ll definitely take this laid back life of being disconnected and monotonous in our food, drink, and routine 95% of the time—the other 5%, GET ME OFF THIS ISLAND!

Don’t worry, we won’t be naming volleyballs anytime soon. We’ve definitely made plans to get out of here at least once per month; our upcoming trips include: Vietnam, Trang, Bangkok, Japan, Iceland, Hong Kong, Chiang Mai, and then back to the States in December.


#IslandLife

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Love in Another World

So, my boyfriend moved across the world for me…what has yours done for you lately? Just kidding, j/k, j/k! 

But in all seriousness, he did. And I couldn’t be more grateful, appreciative, thankful, and most of all happy.

I knew I had it good, but I didn’t realize just how good until we met a newly engaged Austrian couple on the remote island of Koh Ngai. Just days after Ulick’s arrival we sat at a beach bar listening as they told us their romantic, yet unfortunate, story about how Christian had planned to propose to McKayla in the Emerald Cave, however in transit the engagement ring was stolen from his suitcase. Ulick and I oohed and awed in all the right places as he went through his elaborate plan which involved them rowing to this cave in the middle of the sea, and of course felt heartbroken when he told us he did still propose, all as planned, but sans ring. It truly was a moving and refreshing love story, as McKayla couldn’t have been happier or smiling bigger. And it had nothing to do with the size, or sparkle, of her ring.

Conversation then turned to us, and Ulick explained how he had just picked up and moved here a few days prior. It was Christian’s immediate response that I’ll never forget, “Now there’s a true love story.”

I sometimes forget that not all people have my somewhat skewed sense of what adventure means. I forget not everyone has a physical need to travel. I forget that I’m okay being dirty and uncomfortable if it means I’m experiencing something new. I forget that I require less things or modern comforts than the average person, which clearly this just means I’m simple-minded, as nearly anything and everything and nothing can keep me entertained for hours.  But mostly, I forget that not all people can immediately adapt to being a traveler, a gypsy, or an expat.

So for that, Ulick, I apologize. I imagine it can’t be easy and I sincerely thank you for knowingly moving to a world where you’re living with:

  • mosquitos, ants, geckos (literally living in the room with you),
  • being less connected,
  • a whole lot more fishing shows and bad movies,
  • my constant poop talk, and;
  • one strong, relentless sun.

While you're also living without:

  • NFL and NBA games (or really any sports besides soccer),
  • American TV,
  • Mexican food, sub sandwiches, edible pizza (basically anything but Thai) 
  • a car,
  • new movie releases (or a movie theater, for that matter),
  • craft beer (or again, really anything other than really light beer); but,
  • most importantly, your lifelong friends and family.

So I thank Christian for jolting me awake by forever etching in my brain what a wonderful boyfriend I have, and what a giant life change he has made for not only me, but for us.

As the saying goes, sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down. And Ulick, I know that’s exactly what you did.  You leapt. And just decided the rest would sort itself out and your wings would grow.

And grow they have!  You’re now maneuvering a motorbike through Thai traffic (not a small feat), taking Thai language courses (not an easy language), and we are spending Google-free hours solving cold cases, playing brainteasers, enjoying sunsets, coveting dogs, just walking, making friends, trying new foods, discussing earth’s creatures in more detail than a 4th grade science class, dreaming, exploring new places, and most of all just sharing each and every one of these experiences together.

So Ulick, thank you.  Thank you for taking the leap.  Thank you for encouraging me to follow my dream. Thank you for making all the great things in life, grander.  Thank you for allowing me to see Thailand like it’s my first time, through your eyes. But most of all, thank you for walking beside me. My favorite place in the world, is next to you. 

And as I’ve told you before (and clearly stole from someone way more eloquent), I never wanted to be your whole world—just your favorite part. 

You truly are the Sriracha to my life.



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Things I learn while traveling…sometimes the hard way.

Well hello Kota – we meet again.  I kinda want to take back all the nice things I said about you only weeks ago…but alas, I know it’s not your fault.  It’s mine. Completely mine.  It’s your world over here – I’m just trying to get by.  Your game. Your rules. And I’ll play by them.

Leaving here empty-handed last time did not make anyone happy. So I’m back.  And I’m not leaving until I have what I came for. This time I'm taking no chances that I will get my visa in 2 days (or at all) so I came by land. Wasn’t close. Wasn’t fun. But was what had to be done in order to be flexible, and/or move to the country until I have that stupid stamp.

Day 1:
5 am wake up. 5 hour drive with a semi-stranger (the tour desk owner whom I met that morning). Dropped at bus station. 4 hour ride with 14 more strangers (one of which was very large and took up far more than his fair share of the back bench seat next to me). Dropped at the border. Walked across (with literally only 2 other people). Once on the other side, spent far too long convincing the taxi cab drivers that I wasn’t making up a hotel name in Kota just because they’d never heard of it, nor knew where it was located.  45 minute taxi ride to the only skyscraper in Kota Bahru, and my hotel.

Day 1, Evening at hotel:
  • You don’t have working WiFi.  Okay.
  • Oh your pool is closed for renovations?  Hmm that’s the ONE reason I booked this place because I’d already seen all 4 of your city’s sights last time I was here. But, okay.
  • There’s no toilet paper in my room. Okay. Thank god for Five & Below face wipes.
  • Oh my toilet is broken. Okay. I’m using it. That’s now your problem.
  • 150 extra Ringetts?  You want a deposit for the same amount as I’m paying per night so I don’t break anything.  Okay.

Day 2:
Arrive at “One Miracle Café” at opening time to see if their internet works. The name did not lie.  Sit. Refresh email. Over and Over and Over. Waiting for my HR director, who is in Thailand, to drive from the island to the mainland (2.5 hours with the first ferry leaving at 6 am) in order to get a paper from the labor department proving I’m out of the country.  This paper, he then needs to get to me, in order for me to hand in with my visa application.  Before noon.  And Malaysia is one hour ahead. Makes complete sense. Right.  Someone is proven to be out of the country, yet needs this document in order to return. TITS (This is Thailand, Shit).

So at about 10:45 I receive a text with a scan of the document and word that the same scan was emailed to the Consulate. And I’m off.  Arrive at the Consulate at 11:08.  Relief quickly turns to panic. Last week, “send by email, it’s okay”.  This week, “your document, not mine – you print, not me”. Literally telling me this as her hands rest on the Epson scanner/printer through the service window. WHAT?! Omg.  So you’re telling me I need to find a printer in under an hour. In Kota Bahru. Challenge accepted. Not happily, mind you. But I will be back. Maybe not today, but I’m not leaving this country without what I came for.  So with fury in my veins and determination in my step I sarcastically thanked them grabbed my things--I’m carrying my laptop, a USB drive, and 2 phones – I’ve got this. One way or another.

Walk 10 minutes down the road to a large hotel. Ask them to use one of the two computers sitting in the lobby that are clearly for guest use.  “Cannot. Not work.” Okay. 

Ask them for to print something for me. “Sure, it has to be on a USB drive.” Okay. Do you have WiFi? Lucky for me I have this giant laptop that has Gmail and a USB port. “Yes. Have WiFi.” Okay great! 

Not able to connect. Not able to load webpage. Keep showing them these prompts asking if I can use their computer to log on to my email. “No.” Precious time is wasted.  Please call me a taxi.  “Yes, go sit.” Uhhh you didn’t call anyone, why would I just go sit down in your lobby and hope that a taxi miraculously shows up when I’m clearly the only person in this hotel?! 

Out to the street, taxi hailed. “Internet Café please.” “Ok”.  We end up in a parking lot full of taxi cabs.  He motions for me to get out. “No”. A group of taxi drivers come over. They tell me the internet café is just “that way” motioning down away from the parking lot in no particular real direction.  So I say “okay, so he takes me there.” Fighting between the drivers ensues, more directions are given in Malay.  Great, obviously no one knows where there’s a public room that has computers in it.

20 minutes to go. We drive. We pull over. He gets out. This happens about 4 times. I sit. Steaming (literally and figuratively) while convincing myself that not making it by noon is not the end of the world, there’s always tomorrow.

Finally, we are on a street that looks somewhat familiar from last time I went to the internet café (thinking they actually meant café with WiFi)—"STOP!"  I see it.  Hand him far too much money. Jump out – sprint up the stairs to this dark, dank, room filled with a million schoolkids playing Grand Theft Auto – find the one open computer and ask if they can print. “Yes.”

Out of the same black Epson scanner/printer that was in the Consulate comes my document. 11:53.

Sprint outside, grab a taxi and arrive at 12:00 on the dot.  The two ladies behind the desk have zero customers and just stare my way but don’t come to the window for 3 minutes; I just know they are going to say I’m late. Just know it. They clearly were under their breaths debating how scared they were of me (and I must have won) because she comes over and says “passport please”. Phew.

While I’ve yet to receive my Visa, I go back at 10:30 am tomorrow to pick up my passport which will hopefully have a brand new page filled, I’m optimistic.  This is one step further than my last visit.

Traveling today makes you realize just how reliant we are on technology, when we should be reliant first and foremost on ourselves and our ability to plan for and navigate the less connected world.  I had every device necessary and at my disposable. In the end, I didn’t use a single one.  Didn’t use a single one the whole 250 mile trip.

Things I’ve been reminded of this trip…
  • Always be prepared, this includes:
    • Phone numbers
    • My “fake” hotel confirmation printout had no phone number listed on it—even more reason for the taxi drivers to think this place did not exist…and even more minutes wasted convincing them to just drive to Kota Bahru and ask a local.
  • Money
    • Don’t expect an ATM or money exchange anywhere.
    • Know the exchange rates.
    • I talked a local shop owner into selling me some Ringetts just so I could pay for my taxi. And by knowing the rates I made sure I didn’t lose money. Well, not too much.
  • Don’t expect anyone to know where anything is.  Even if it’s their job to know. And in their hometown.  Just don’t.
    • It never fails, when asking where something is, far too often the response is: “I don’t know.” ATM? “I don’t know.” Internet Café? “I don’t know.” Thai Consulate? “I don’t know.”  But you’re a taxi driver!  And I have a map!  “I don’t know.”  Get used to it. Don’t get frustrated. And figure it out yourself.
    • Maps, town names, landmarks, etc. – know some!  I checked all the large landmarks next to this “fake” hotel when I booked it, so at least I could halfway explain where to start looking for this place, “By the University Hospital…”
  • And do not plan to rely on technology for any of the above.  Or anything else for that matter. Yes they have Google, but A) it costs a ton of money for them to use it on their phones, and when they do get something pulled up it’s so slow that it just stalls out. B) there are no WiFi cafes to offer what you’re so used to having at one finger's touch; all the world's information. C) Just be prepared and depend on your own big brain.  This tech-dependency we all have is making us weak when it comes to survival skills.
  • Be flexible and patient.
    • It’ll leave.  Eventually. It’ll come. Eventually. It’ll work out. Eventually.
    • Spend that time waiting to come with your plan B.  Or at least your, “I guess that wouldn’t be the end of the world if…” plan.
  • Don’t be afraid to offer an alternate solution when in a stalemate.
    • “Let’s just drive to Kota. I’ll ask when we get near the hospital!” 
But more than anything, just smile and roll with the punches.  No need to block or defend them. They’ll still come in one form or another. Just take them and figure out how to get back on your feet.

Again, Kota thank you.  While here, I’ve managed to solve 2 “unsolvable” problems, I’ve made 2 new friends, I’ve also made 1 new enemy, and yet again I have been reminded that it’s not the destination but the journey.