You know those times and places that your mind keeps coming back to when you let it wander? The feelings come alive again from a smell, a song, or a familiar face you haven’t seen in years, and suddenly, it’s like you’ve jumped into the wormhole and traveled back in time. It happened to me when I bought the same soap I had used several years prior, it was like opening a window to the past every time I removed the cap. It happened when I heard a song I’d had on repeat while driving through the countryside in Asia. I was transported back when I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in seven years.
Not all places are missed equally in my mind, but the ones that remain heavy in my memory I often want to return to, a little scared of the unavoidable changes that await me.
There are some places I’ve never really let go of, some I’ve returned to multiple times, and some I still dream of even years later. Whether I’ve been back or not, they all have one thing in common: It was almost impossible to leave and I’ve never stopped dreaming of returning in some way, somehow.
Taipei was the first place I ever went in Asia when I moved there, sight unseen, at age 21 after graduating from the University of California. I still wasn’t ready to join the working world, but I did know that I wanted to perfect my Chinese language skills. I obtained a scholarship for the study of Mandarin and it was only due to a blip in my timing with renewing my student visa that I had to leave after 8 months there. In the end, it led me to where I am now, so I’m ok with how it all went, but I have still not stopped dreaming of a return to Taipei.
It was there that I fell in love with Asia, embarked on the craziest journey of my life by far by obtaining a weirdly semi-famous status there (I still have the tabloids I was in!), and eventually returning home to normalcy. It feels like another life, another girl, and in a way, it was. I’ll always love Taipei for showing me that there’s a big world out there, and for starting the torrid love affair I now have with Asia.
Otres Beach, Cambodia
Otres was only the fourth place I had been to on my open-ended journey that started almost two years ago now. I had never seen white-sand beaches with that kind of pristine beauty that hadn’t been built up with all kinds of tourism and in a way, been “ruined.”
I still devise grand plans in my mind from time to time to return, because it was my first true taste of Southeast Asian beaches and I still can’t imagine a more perfect place for swimming with phytoplankton at night, eating whole red snapper for $6, meeting amazing and interesting people, and generally lazing each day away without feeling like it was wasted.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog at all, or if you maybe just dabble from time to time, you’ll already know how much I love Pai. I’ve managed to return three times and it just keeps getting better.
After seeing some resorts under construction last time I was there (in May of this year), I started to wonder if maybe it was time to quiet down about how much I love Pai. It’s not that I think I’ve singlehandedly made it more touristic, it’s just that I want more than anything for it to remain just the way it is: beautiful, peaceful, and wild.
I didn’t expect to like Chengdu nearly as much as I did. I just wanted to pass through and get my visa extended, then move back over to the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture – an area I’m truly, madly in love with. What ended up happening was an almost month-long stint spent there meeting the expat community and becoming fully immersed in it.
By the time I left, I was already plotting a plan to come back in six months and start teaching English. But I know myself, I’m not the teacher type and the pollution would eventually get to me. Otherwise, I love the wild roller coaster that China is, and I love the expat community there. It was almost as cool as the one in Taipei.
I lived in Melbourne for two months and it makes my heart ache every time I think about it now. I moved there after my first four months in Southeast Asia for the wrong reasons and I wasn’t ready for the sticker shock or the break in my travels that accompanied it. Unfortunately, I wasted my yearlong work and holiday visa, which Americans are not allowed to renew, after getting on the hamster wheel working at high end shoe shop and deciding to leave two months later.
So now, I can’t go back to live without work sponsorship or becoming a student. But, I’m a freelancer and I truly feel like my student days are behind me. It’s a catch 22 and I’ll always miss that amazing city that it seems I have no way back into.
I’ve been searching for two years and I’ve finally found it: the perfect city I never knew existed but always wanted to find. It’s affordable, it’s SO MUCH FUN, and the community of locals and expats here is amazing. Plus, I can actually apply for a freelancing visa and stay here.
Mark my words, I’ll be doing that.
Where are the places in this world you’ve never truly left?