Thursday, November 8, 2012

Backpackers vs Travelers: Why Everyone Prefers the Latter

I have never lived in a place that wasn’t a tourist destination. I know that every city/town receives out of town visitors, but some more than others, and having lived in South Florida (Ft. Lauderdale, Delray Beach) Boston, New York, London, and Hanoi, I certainly have a knack of picking them.

Traveling is one of the most wonderful things in the world. Coming from a family of avid travels, and being one myself, I can never get enough of seeing new places, trying out different foods, listening to various languages, learning about culture and traditions specific to the region I’m in. I am not sure I’ll ever tire of it and actively encourage everyone to the same. When we travel, not only is a new world open to us, but we are also stimulating the local economies of the places we go, which is important. I know from personal experience that my hometown of Delray Beach depends on the influx of tourists and snowbirds in the winter. And despite the year rounders complaining that when this happens, it’s impossible to get a table for dinner anywhere in town, we all knew that the small businesses that we loved so much (like: Sandwiches by the Sea, Ciao Café etc) are directly benefiting from the flurry of activity that takes place in these months.

Every city I’ve lived in has had their own unique brand of travelers; South Florida was: retirees, families, and Spring Breakers (though only for a few weeks, thankfully); New York had a lot Japanese, and other Americans;  London had a little bit of everything; and then there’s Vietnam, where the majority of the travelers we stumble across are of the backpacker variety.

While those dwelling in NYC take on an irritated view of tourists (“Seriously, he just stopped suddenly in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture upwards at a skyscraper. I ran right into him, spilled my coffee and was late to work!”) the expats living in Southeast Asia take on a certain disdain to backpackers.

As I said previously, I fully support anyone’s decision to travel, especially as I feel in order to be an educated, well-rounded person you need to be aware of the world around you. However if you’re going to travel, there is a way to do it, and in a lot of ways today’s stereotypical “backpacker” is doing it incorrectly. 10, 15, 20 years ago, the word “backpacker” meant something different than it does today. Being a backpacker back then simply meant traveling around the world with limited luggage and a shoestring budget, but these days it has a whole new connotation,  one that has made the term a bit negative. Today’s traveler is the pasts backpacker. Which one are you? (Side note: traveling with only a backpack doesn’t make you a “backpacker”)

I have a game that I play called “Pass/Fail” and, as my expat friends and I sit outside at a café or bia hoi, we judge what those visitors are wearing and give it a “Pass or Fail.” It’s not the nicest game but it’s entertaining. Jokes aside, when traveling to a foreign country, it is imperative that the culture of that country is taken into consideration when dressing oneself. Even if you are only carrying a backpack or small duffel, you can pack for almost every occasion/country.

Backpackers: They’re easy to spot. The men are wearing a singlet with some kind of local beer as the logo (if they’re wearing a shirt at all), shorts, and flip flops. Sometimes they’re wearing some kind of ridiculous headgear. The women wear tank tops, Aladdin pants, and flip flips. Both of them have about 50 woven bracelets on. They wear these outfits every day, everywhere they go, regardless of whether or not it’s appropriate. I will say that the men are worse. That taking off your shirt in a bar, or at dinner is not appropriate. (My mother and I were at dinner on ma May and a young man was in a pair of silk boxers, no shirt, adjusting himself and shirtless, really disrespectful) Walking down Khao San road is a nightmare, women in just bikini tops and men shirtless. This is blatant disregard for decency and disrespect for the conservative culture in Thailand. Also, for whatever reason, backpackers are always dirty. It seems to be a badge of honor to not wash their clothes or even shower regularly.  It’s disgusting and inexcusable.

Travelers:  Keep their clothes on, unless they’re at the beach or pool. They also make use of the incredibly inexpensive and abundant laundry services around town. They shower.  They don’t look like idiots. They have a small bag but still manage to have appropriate attire: long trousers, shorts, shirts with sleeves, shirts without sleeves, one pair of decent shoes, one pair of sneakers, one pair of flip flips. It’s really not that difficult.

Call me crazy, but when I’ve made the decision to visit a country, I’m doing it because I am interested in seeing and experiencing it.  I want to do things that I can’t do at home, eat food that is new and exciting, leave my comfort zone, meet locals to get a feel for the “real” country.

Backpackers: For whatever reason, backpackers seem to have a superiority complex, truly believing that the country/establishment they’re in is lucky to have them and should cater to their every whim.  They waltz in like they own the place, make loud and boorish demands, and treat everyone around them like they’re second class. They speak to and about the locals as if they’re stupid, often make jokes at their expense to their friends. They are annoyed that the locals don’t speak English and can get quite aggressive about it (news flash: you’re not in an English speaking country, the world doesn’t revolve around you), they make complaints and judgments about the country despite having no solid basis for doing so. Why is this? Because backpackers don’t really experience the country, they stick to their own designated area, drinking and carousing into all hours of the night, hooking up with each other, and sleeping all day. (Why they need to leave their country to do this is beyond me)  Occasionally they drag themselves out of bed and do something cultural, but only scratch the lonely planet surface.

Travelers:  May use Lonely Planet (no disrespect) but also take initiative and explore.Do they go out? yes. Do they party? Sure. but it's not just about that for them. They do other things. They talk to the locals. Eat street food. Are mindful that while they’re on holiday that they are GUESTS in this country. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to themselves. Are respectful to and about the people, tradition, and culture around them. Make the most of where they are.

Traveling responsibly is essential regardless of age, nationality or budget. When you make the decision to visit a country, you have decided to experience it and understand it, which is part of what makes traveling such a magical thing.

Backpackers: View every country as their own personal playground, and view their presence in the place as a gift they are bestowing to the locals around them. They are the ones who walk around drunk in Muslim countries, who are scantily clad in conservative countries, who don’t bother to adopt the local mentality but rather shove their own (often inappropriate) behavior everyone around them.  They expect for the country to adjust to them, not the other way around. It also creates unrest and draws incorrect conclusions about western culture from the locals and the locals don't respect the foreigners because they behave like animals. the backpackers leave thinking the locals are unfriendly

Travelers: Have done their research, know how to dress and conduct themselves in a proper manner. They have fun, do what they want without disrupting the society around them. They understand that where they are is different than where they’re form, but they appreciate it and don’t deride it. After all,  one of the main factors of traveling is being somewhere different than where we’re from.

One of the most defining factors of a backpacker vs a traveler is the things they say and how they say them.

Backpackers:  The number one way to determine whether you’re conversing with a backpacker is if they describe the places they’ve visited as “doing” a country. Example: “I’ve done Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. “ What does that even mean? You’ve DONE it? Just because you have a patch sewn on your rucksack and a stamp in your passport doesn’t mean the country has been properly explored. I’ve lived in Vietnam for almost three years, I lived in NYC for almost four, and I can safely say that there are things and places that have not yet been explored. There is always more to discover and to suggest otherwise is both ignorant and insulting. Another choice phrase is using the word “little” to describe a local countrymen, but not in reference to their physical stature. Example:  “I was at a café and this little man came up to me tried to speak to me.” This terminology is insulting to the people in which its describing and also a demonstration of the arrogance that comes from those thinking they’re better than the residents of the place they’re a GUEST of.

Travelers: Describe their travels as just that, travels or “places they’ve been to.” When discussing the local people they use adjectives such as “interesting” or “lovely”

This is a tough one, because everyone is in a different position financially. Some people are on a shoestring budget while others have plenty of money to spend which they do. Neither is better, it’s just how you handle it. One of the most fortuitous things about traveling in Asia is that, aside from places like Singapore, Shanghai, Bhutan, and Hong Kong, you can visit them without breaking the bank. It makes opportunities open to a variety of budgets which is wonderful. Believe me, I get not having a ton of money, and I am, by no means, a high roller but I am fundamentally against visiting a country and not stimulating the economy.

Backpackers: Have less to spend, which is fine, but they tend to be obnoxious about it. What’s most bothersome about this is that, despite their financial status is, they still have a lot more money than a lot of the people in countries they’re visiting. They are the ones arguing with the hotels and street vendors about a dollar. (The difference for the backpacker is a few beers but for the person they’re arguing, it’s about feeding their family) Now, before anyone jumps down my throat, I will agree that the locals do try and exploit as much as possible (it can be frustrating to argue down the price of fruit or the price of a motorbike taxi) but let’s be honest, isn’t that what the backpackers are doing too? Waltzing in like they own the place, complete disregard to everything around them, and then leaving? These people are harmful to a destination, they bring little money, make it very competitive. You look at places like Bhutan and you realize why they have a minimum spending requirement.

Travelers: Have a budget, of course, but are flexible with it. They don’t freak out about spending a little bit of money and aren’t rude or disrespectful in their bargaining. They understand that they are responsible for contributing to someone’s livelihood.  

I’m sure I am going to get a lot of negative and angry comments from people calling me snobby and uninformed and while I’m not trying to offend anyone, I find it increasingly annoying to watch people come into the city that I have called home for three years and treat it like trash. I’m tired of traveling to other cities and listening to people complain about the most ridiculous things. I don’t understand how people can make the decision to buy a plane ticket, visit a country and then not embrace the opportunity. As I said, being a backpacker doesn’t mean traveling with a backpack, but having the attitude that the rest of the world owes them something. I am not suggesting that people stop traveling, I am just imploring them to do it responsibly and respectfully. To understand that it’s a gift, one that should be treasured.

*This was inspired by countless conversations I’ve had with expats, particularly AH and PL. So thanks for that.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Type Casting: Why "You're Not My Type" (Should No Longer) Be An Option

One of our biggest quests in life is self discovery, and once armed with this knowledge,  to embrace who we are, what we want, and what we’re capable of. It ensures that we are able to flourish more than we fail and it keeps us on the path that we have laid out for ourselves. Professionally, we set goals and we strive to meet them, we take risks only when we can envision a profitable outcome. For example, those with no rhythm don’t leave their cushy, safe job to move to London or New York to become a dancer. That would be ridiculous. Instead they do things like attend the ballet, and appreciate the art form though it isn’t one they can take part in.

We do the same in our personal lives. In the throes of our self awareness, we challenge ourselves to things, but only so much. If we’re reserved and cautious, our challenge may be to go skydiving one day, but we’d hardly decide to surround ourselves with people whose daily routines include risk taking and throwing caution to the wind. If we’re bookworms, we don’t like to associate with people who think reading is stupid, and if we’re religious, those who laugh at the notion of  higher power aren’t on our speed dial (the list could go on and on)  Because we’re not like that, and those people, they’re not our type.

I’m no exception to this. Having had a transatlantic childhood and an adulthood where three of my years have been spent as an expat, I find myself gravitating towards those like-minded and finding it increasingly difficult to engage with those who have zero interest in a culture other than their own. I don’t judge them, but I don’t know how to relate with them on more than a superficial level.

This is an entirely natural state of being. It makes perfect sense to stick to our strengths career wise and interact with people who share mutual interests and experiences as us. However, at the same time, I believe that labeling people/situations and sticking to one “type” can be detrimental and very limiting.

I’m going to focus on relationships, because I obviously find them fascinating and think our personal relationships show more about ourselves than any career accolades we may gather along the way. A job is a job but our relationships, that’s who we ARE.

Perhaps the largest instance in which “type” casting comes into play is in romantic relationships. Very few people are open to everyone, but instead have an idea of what it is they want in a partner.  Physical type, I can’t really comment on, because as we all know, attraction is a major part of what draws us to someone else. I have friends who simply can’t find blondes good looking, and others who have never dated anyone who isn’t Asian, and try as I have, I simply haven’t been able to be attracted to someone shorter than I am. These things, for the most part, are immutable, and as I said, I am not even going to try explain why it is we’re physically drawn to a certain type of person. But there are more to relationships than looks (believe it or not) and after someone has passed our physical inspection, we start to get know them and determine whether or not they’re “our type” …and this is where we start limiting ourselves. It’s also the most common excuse (but maybe the worst) for rejecting someone. One we need to stop using.

Doing it is easy. Just like writing someone off because they don’t fit into our ideal or typical is easy. However the more I think about it, the more I think we shouldn’t do it. I understand the mindset behind it, but I am beginning to wonder if we always know what is best for ourselves, or what it is we need. The way I’ve started thinking about it is this: We only date a certain type of person, but unless we marry them (and even then sometimes) we end up breaking it off because it’s not right. We do it again with a different person on the same type and keep repeating the same cycle. These acts are usually subconscious, instead of sitting back and thinking, “Ok, so my type isn’t working out, perhaps this means that this isn’t my type, but more a habit.” 

If something fails repeatedly we shouldn’t keep doing it, but rather explore new methods on how to succeed.  Instead of writing off someone new we meet because they aren’t like the people we usually date, maybe we should give them a chance and see what happens. The worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work out and the best is that it does and we get our happily ever after, or at least a fulfilling and wonderful experience. (I’ll concede that when embarking on a serious relationship there are certain factors that need to be mutual or at least compromised reached such as: religion, money, politics, desire for children, hard line morals and where you want to live but just because someone isn’t your “type” doesn’t mean that these things will necessarily differ) 

One of the best decisions we can make in our romantic life is to date people that we like and enjoy being around, that inspire us and make us think, that we feel happy with, as opposed to pigeonholing ourselves and closing the dating pool because of preconceived notions and irrational fears. (On a side note. some of the best and successful love stories/relationships take place between two people who admit that their partner "wasn't my usual type")

Part of what I'm most grateful for during my time in Hanoi is the exposure that I’ve had to so many different people. While I’ll admit that we all have “expat factor” as a strong common ground, many of them are very different from my friends at home, and I love that. (Not disparaging my home friends, who I love and miss dearly but having these new, refreshing people has given me new perspectives on a lot of things)  Some of my new friends are people that I “would be friends with” if I was in New York or London, but some of them I probably wouldn’t have gotten to know due to the sheer fact that we’re “different” and our paths probably wouldn’t have crossed.  I would’ve thought they weren’t my type, when in actuality, they are. 

*For the record, I do have a type, and it's "extraordinary." None of the men I've dated look the same, and they're usually quite different in terms of personality, the only consistent common factor that applies is that they're all extraordinary in one way or another. The same applies to my friends. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

But You Say I'm Just a Friend: From Friends to Romance (or Not)

Some people say that men and women are incapable of being friends, that at some point,  one will inevitably develop romantic feelings for the other which will alter the dynamic in the relationship. While I don’t agree with this completely, I will concede that falling for a friend is one of the most natural things in the world. It’s also one of the most complicated.

When we’re friends with someone, we already like them as people. We enjoy spending time with them, they make us laugh, we have fun when we’re around them, we’re comfortable with them and vice versa. When we’re friends with someone we’re not playing a game or putting on act, they know us, they understand us, they’ve seen us in both a positive and negative light and they like us anyway. With friends there is also a support system, in those friendships of the opposite sex also provide us with an insight to the other sex. I have spent countless hours with my male friends either supporting them through girl troubles or having them reiterate that I’m an incredible person who deserves a great guy. When our friends pay us compliments, we believe them, we know they’re coming from a genuine place with no ulterior motives. If we're going through a tough time  or feeling insecure and unattractive, having someone wonderful from the opposite sex remind us that we’re fabulous is a powerful morale booster. 

Sometimes we take these relationships and use them to lift us up, but sometimes, we look at the person we’re talking to and think, “Wait, why I am not with you? I like being around you a lot and you clearly like me, so why am I stressing about (insert name)?” We think about how much easier it would be to just date our friend.

Sometimes these feelings are legitimate, and we have, in fact, had a realization that the person we want to be with has been standing in front of us but sometimes these emotions stem from the confusion of the moment. The feelings we are suddenly overcome by can be misplaced and are perhaps generated more from the desire to feel accepted and loved for who we are. This is why it’s so confusing and, at times, precarious. We then have to decide whether or not we ACTUALLY like our friend or if it’s just a fleeting thing that we’ll get over and cringe over when looking back. And then we have to decide what we’re going to do about it. Do we tell them? Or do we just sit back and do nothing?

Rejection is never easy, there is never an instance where it feels good to have someone tell us that they don’t want us back, however it’s much worse when it’s a friend doing the rejection. If it’s someone we don’t know that well, we can move on, laugh at them for being stupid (while secretly feeling terrible) but if it’s our friend, not only do we have to see them again, frequently, but we also run the risk of losing them all together. Not only do we not get kissed but all of a sudden we’re down one friend, a double loss, one large enough that makes holding back an attractive option.

The first thing we need to do is think about it. 

Actual vs Circumstance:

Self Evaluation:  It’s impossible to be unbiased in our own lives, but we need to try and be as objective as possible. Take a few steps back and really look at what’s going on. Are we going through a tough time? Are we unhappy? Lonely? Any other type of feeling that makes us feel vulnerable that would make us more inclined to seek out the comfort of another person. What is it that we're feeling and looking for? 

Discretion: Most of us like to bounce ideas off of those around us, however in this situation, it’s not always the best idea. The more people who are involved, the bigger deal it becomes, and the greater the possible fallout. If we decide that we like our friend but aren’t sure how they feel about us, the natural gut reaction to seek validation, and we do that by asking others what they think of the situation. People who know the both of you, people who’ve seen interactions and know both personalities, but as tempting as this is to do, avoid it. It puts the third party in an awkward position and can end up complicating things on a whole new level.

Time: This could be the real deal, or it could just be a phase. While I don’t ever advocate denying oneself the chance at happiness, I do believe that time can be a powerful indicator in this situation. Don’t rush into any declarations, but rather wait and see if your feelings grow or subside. I’m not talking years, here, but a month, at least.

Them-Evaluation:  After we’ve looked into ourselves and figured out what our state of mind is, it’s time to look at our person of interest. Why do we think we like them? Do we like them for the same reasons that we like all of our other friends or is there something extra there? What exactly is it that has shifted our perception of them? It’s more than just suddenly realizing, "Wow, so-and-so is REALLY HOT" but more they way you feel when you’re with them. So, suddenly thinking someone’s cute and wanting to kiss them is very different than realizing that you’re at your happiest when you’re around someone.

Be realistic: Just because someone makes an incredible friend doesn’t mean that they’d make a good significant other. We are drawn to our friends romantically because we think about how easy it is with them, but in actuality, who they are as a friend and who they are as a partner are completely different. I count a lot of amazing men as my friends but I know that if we were together that certain things about them would make us incompatible. We have different expectations and needs from the person we’re dating then from our friends.

Be prepared: Be prepared for anything that will happen. Perhaps our friend will freak out and no longer want to speak to us. We must prepare for this. Perhaps we end up dating and it's a disaster and we lose them altogether. Perhaps we hook up and it's terrible. Perhaps it turns into an epic romance that has a happily ever after. We must be prepared for all situations.

After we’ve evaluated the above we should hopefully have a clearer picture of our feelings. So if we decide that we DO actually like them,  what then?

I asked a lot of people about this, if they’ve ever fallen for a friend, and what they did when they realized it. I am of the mindset that the best relationships are the ones that have the basis of friendship. We know that relationships are complicated, there are ups and downs and we need someone on our team that have a solid establishment with. 

Ideally, in the situation of friends to lovers, the person feels the same way and the situation unfolds naturally. That one day/night/trip, things evolve and just happen. That we transition seamlessly. Sometimes though, it doesn’t and we need to take action.

Communicate: As difficult as it is, I do think if we care about someone then we should be honest with them.  (There are exceptions, certain no fly zones, in which case we should maybe just let it go) Talking about feelings is not an easy thing to do, but on the other hand, this person is our friend, which hopefully means they’re a good enough person to be gracious and kind when we are stumbling through our confession.  The worst that happens is that they reject us and stop being our friend, but frankly, if that happens then it wasn’t a real friendship anyway. Usually what will happen is: a) they feel the same way or b)they don’t, it’s a little awkward for a bit but you both get over it. However, I don’t believe that a friendship can be sustainable if these feelings last, it will eventually blow up.

Timing:  I’ve said this many times before, there is a time and place for everything. If you friend is telling you about her new boyfriend or that she just got engaged, blurting out, “No but I love you!” is probably not the best response. Neither is getting drunk to make your feelings known. A lot of people will dispute this, in fact over half the people I “surveyed” about this have said that they get a couple of drinks in them and then make their move. While I understand the need for liquid courage, I think it’s a cop out. Aside from the fact that no one can really take a drunken confession 100% seriously, it’s also a shield that we hide behind. If we’re rejected, we can blame the alcohol for what we’ve done or said, and pretend like we didn’t mean it. It’s easier, for sure, and less risk, but less reward as well. As terrifying as it is, we need to do it sober, and at an appropriate time.

Listen: Unless it's over email (WHICH IS A BIG NO) this is not a one sided conversation. The person on the receiving end is just as important as you, the initiator. You have to give them a chance to speak and say what they want. Don't put words in their mouth, don't make assumptions, and don't erect defense mechanisms to soften the blow. You've decided to do this so do it properly. A classic example is saying something like: "I know you don't feel the same way..." or "I know I'm not your type..." Doing this is wrong and bad and immature. Not to mention you'll leave the conversation unsatisfied because you never really got their response, just the one you prearranged for them. 

Accept: Whatever the outcome is we have to accept it. We made the conscious decision to lay ourselves on the line and the only adult and responsible thing to do is take what we’re given and behave with dignity.  Life isn’t like the movies, and there are very few instances where our declaration will be met with a fairytale response. The truth is, even if it IS mutual, things will be a little weird for a while. No transition is completely seamless, and we will have to tread slowly, to see what happens, let things just be. Also, our friend will (most likely) by thrown by what we’ve just said and may need time to work through it. Or they may tell us that, sorry, it just isn’t mutual, and as hurtful as that is, we have to deal with it. It’s not their fault. We don’t like everyone and can’t expect for everyone to like us. If we don’t like what we hear, we can’t get angry or vicious, or throw out ultimatums. We also have to be cognizant of the fact that the person may be uncomfortable with this newfound information and might need some space. We can’t get emotional and ask them why they don’t like us. We can’t change ourselves or the other person. We can’t keep bringing it up. Once you’ve said your piece, let it go. Have enough respect for yourself and other person. It is what it is.

On the Flip Side
Most of us have, at some point, been the recipient of a love confession, as I mentioned, it can be awkward or shocking. Regardless of our feelings, it throws us, but there are Do’s and Don’ts in handling the situation:

Be kind: It took a lot for this person to come to you and open up, and they’re probably nervous so you need to be kind and gentle in your response.

Be honest: Whatever it is you’re feeling, express it. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, say it. If you think it could work out, say it. If you’re just not into them, say it. It may not be easy to do, but if you care about your friend, which you do, then they deserve it.

Be normal but aware: There is no reason why we can’t maintain a friendship with someone who likes us (Unless they make it weird or are relentless in the pursuit) but we also need to be cognizant of the signals that we’re sending out. Most likely, initially, our friend will be hoping something will happen and will be reading into things more than they should, and while we shouldn’t change completely, we should make our stance clear. Hopefully, over time, our friend will get over it and it’ll be something we laugh about together, but in the meantime we have to be sensitive about not giving false hope.

Gossip/Use it against them:  We’re not five, so this should be obvious, but don’t make someone else's feelings your water cooler conversation. It’s insensitive and inconsiderate. Also, don’t make the person feel stupid for what they’ve told you. Keep it between the two of you and don't use it for your own personal entertainment. 

Play games:  When someone tells us they have feelings for us, it’s natural that we take it into consideration when we may not have previously done so. We may need time to figure out what it is that WE’RE feeling, but don’t use this as an excuse to experiment. It is wrong and mean to do something like kiss your friend and then turn around and say, "Actually no, I’m not into you like that after all." Any decision or moves made should be considered.

Be mean. Ever

*Thanks to:
Someone on the other side of the world who is dealing with this, I hope it goes well. 
Everyone who took part in the survey. ;)
MTV for the show "Friend Zone" which, by the way, is a terrible way to tell someone you like them.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I'm Like a Bird: Why WingWOMEN Are Better Options Than Wingmen

I’ve always been fascinated by the art of flirting and picking someone up.  We go from noticing someone, wanting to speak to them, approaching them….and then either having it go the way we wanted or not.

I am a bit of a paradox. I am the kind of girl who likes to be chased. I know, shocking, right? I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, that women like to feel desired. We want to feel special and a good way to do that is to pursue us. We don’t want to feel like you ended up with us because it was easy. That being said, I texted my last three boyfriends first, but I couldn’t help but feel a slight nagging sensation, wondering that if I hadn’t showed the initial interest or spark, if they would’ve pursued me. My current boyfriend assures me that he had every intention of calling me to ask me out, and that I just beat him to the punch. I actually believe him. 

I’m digressing, as I always do. What I am (trying to) get at is the art of picking someone up that you don’t really know. I will go on the record to say that women have it easier: if we want someone and we approach them, the odds are more in our favor that the response will be positive, whereas men, no matter how good looking, or nice, or charming they are, have it a little bit harder. This is because women have this image of men only wanting one thing, of flirting with us simply to achieve their end goal of bringing us home at the end of the night. We women are suspicious, we believe the worst, we don’t want to be another notch on someones belt, so we, at times, will be prickly, we’ll shove off advances. Even if we are interested in someone, we’re faced with a conundrum of not wanting to shut them down completely but still having to play a certain degree of cool. If we think we could like someone, we don’t want to hand ourselves over so easily, we want to be sure that he’s different, he’s not like everyone else. This is why men often label women as a “tease” and women turn around and brand men as “players.” It’s complicated.

When we go out to a social spot, such as a bar, club or party, we’re usually flanked by our friends. This isn’t unusual, in fact, it would be less ordinary to show up alone. Sometimes we go out simply for the purpose of having fun with our friends, and aren’t interested in any outside parties, but sometimes we’re on the prowl to meet people, and our friends become our “wingmen.” Men use the term more than women do, mainly because it’s usually the groups of men that approach the women. They decide the one they’re interested in, tell their friend, and as a group they approach. This approach will usually result in some kind of interaction, but as women, we know what’s happening. We’re not stupid, and we know that you know we’re not, so as soon as you and your boys come up to us, we know it’s not discuss the latest developments in foreign policy. We instantly become girls: our guards come up and we will make you work for it. We’ll even do annoying things like drag our friend away from you at the end of the night. (I once had a guy earnestly tell me, “I really really like you.” “You do?” I asked, ‘Well that’s great. So that means that you’ll REALLY REALLY like me tomorrow. Call me then.”)

I am not begrudging men for this approach, or any approach actually. I think the idea of walking up to someone and essentially exposing yourself to rejection is a daunting feat, so putting yourself in the line of fire is commendable (that being said, if you get “leave me alone” vibes, and those are OBVIOUS, then move on) but I’ve found that the most successful pick ups happen when the woman doesn’t realize it’s happening.

Guys, let me introduce the wingwoman, a person who serves the same purpose as a wingman, but is a better option because they have the advantage of being the same sex as the person you’re trying to approach. A wingwoman is a valuable asset, because she is a completely non threatening entity and can secure the initial introduction in a way that eliminates awkwardness and your (potential) creepiness factor. For a woman to approach a woman in a social setting is easy, and doesn’t immediately heighten suspicion or raise guards. I talk to women all the time, not always as wingwomen, but over something as simple as really liking their dress. You’d be surprised how a comment like that can evolve into a full on conversation. As a wingwoman, I make a casual approach like that, engage the girl, and then my guy friend will join a few minutes later, under some kind of pretense. Best Example: “I’m going to the bar, would you like something?” It is at this point, which I introduce my guy friend to the girl he has secretly been interested in all night. He is nice and charming, and then offers to get the girl something. After he walks away, I define the relationship. She’ll most likely ask (especially if she finds him attractive) if he’s my boyfriend. If she doesn’t do this, I’ll discreetly mention how awesome he is, fending off creepy guys when my boyfriend is out of town. When he returns with drinks, conversation is facilitated and I, after a short time, have to use the bathroom, or run into someone, or get a call from my mother. From there, it’s up to my guy friend. I’ve led the horse to water, there’s not much more I can, or should, do.  

Tips for Finding a Good Wingwoman:    
1. Make sure she isn’t interested in you. No matter how good of friend she is or wants to be, if there are any romantic inclinations it will end in disaster.  Girls with boyfriends make good options. Not only does the guy know that she’s not interested, but the other woman is reassured as well. Also, make sure you’re not interested in her, as it’ll also become obvious.  Plus she may ask you to return the favor someday.

2. Make sure you actually like hanging out with the person and trust their judgment.  It’s important that your friends know you and won’t but you in a weird or embarrassing situation.

3.Ability. You can have a friend who is great but may not be “wingwoman material.” Make sure the girl is able to insert herself into conversations, approach people and be comfortable. Also your wingwoman shouldn’t be drunk, otherwise she’ll come off as ridiculous and out of control. You want her in control and with her wits about her

4. Communication. You should be able to communicate with your wingwoman about the situation without being overly obvious about it. For example, when wingwomaning, I can find out easily whether or not the girl is interested in my friend, or even available, and I want to be able to warn my friend without making it too obvious. So make sure you can pick up her signals and read her.

If done correctly, having a wingwoman can be the most important person on your team. Approaching someone for the first time is never easy, so the more comfortable and open she can be upon the initial introduction, the better. They say behind every great man is a great woman, and in this case let it be your wingwoman.

Thanks for to MJ and MF for the inspiration and to the ever insightful HK for his contributions. To AB for pointing out that not all men are creepy in their approach. To JF who would've called me anyway. Also a big thanks to the men in my life who have trusted me with being their wingwoman, many of whom are now with the object of their affection. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Somebody I Used To Know: When to Walk Away

There comes a time in life, in relationships, in situations, where we have to accept that the strongest thing we can do is stop fighting, and walk away. We have been preconditioned to be fighters, we’re told not to quit or give up on the things that are important to us. We’re made to believe that by doing so, that we are, in some way, failures.

I am no different, in fact, I am the worst offender of this. Despite all of the lessons I’ve learned in life, one I have not been able to fully been able to embrace is walking away. Walking away from a toxic friendship, an unfulfilling relationship, an uninspiring job, or a life choice that no longer brings me joy. In fact, the second I see things spiraling south, I go into overdrive, trying to salvage, protect and save, regardless of the outcome it has to my personal and emotional health. I think this is, in part, due to my passion for the things and people in my life. If I commit to something it’s because I care about it, sincerely and wholly, and I find many of the attitudes today too cavalier, giving up because something isn’t perfect, because it isn’t the exact way they envisioned it in their head. I watched a friend take a “dream job” and leave after three weeks because it wasn’t “what she thought it would be.” I lost respect for this girl, thinking that she should’ve sought out the opportunities that WERE available within that position, perhaps find something that she hadn’t anticipated but was still incredible, but just in a different way. I’ve fought for friendships despite knowing the person should be cut off, I just couldn’t walk away from history.  I’ve stayed dating people even when the magic ended because it was there once and I believe in love.

I guess for me, as idealistic as I am, I have a realistic side. I know that life comes with trials and tribulations, and with ups and downs. I know some the best things are the ones we work for, that the challenges we’re presented with are important life lessons, showing us who we are and what we’re capable of. I will never be the kind of person who doesn’t give everything I have to something that matters to me. I am a bit on the extreme side, and I’ve spent some time observing how the other half lives. 

I’ve had extensive conversations with people who leave jobs when they’re not getting what they want out of it, who cut off friends when they’ve outstayed their welcome, and break up with significant others the minute it becomes apparent that it’s heading down a dead end.  I find them fascinating and admire their courage. I have started to realize that they have an equal commitment; it’s the one to themselves.  They don’t want to settle for anything less than they feel they deserve, so they don’t.  They aren’t selfish, they’re just acutely aware of what works and what doesn’t, and don’t have time for the in between nonsense.

I think there is a middle ground, a healthy balance between idealism and realism where the right approach lies. While I understand the people above, I do think it is too easy to just walk away, just like it’s senseless and pointless to stay firmly planted. So how do we know when is enough?  Unless there is some major event that makes it impossible to not cut off, we have to rely on other means. It’s all about evaluation and honest assessments. 

RELATIONSHIPS:  Platonic and Romantic

BALANCE/COMMITMENT:  Healthy relationships are all about balance, you get what you give. No one wants to be the friend who is there for their friend in times of trouble only to be abandoned when the tables are turned. We don’t want to be the one who is always giving, always being the first one to call or make plans.  There are times that one person will have more significant needs than the other, and that’s fine, this is normal. But it can’t be a completely off kilter exchange. Both parties have needs and those needs should be recognized and met.  I know there are times where I can be emotionally demanding, but I also know that when someone I care about needs me, that there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. Examine the commitment levels and see if they’re fair, if you’re happy with them, if you feel like you’re giving too much or too little. We need equal and fair levels of commitment. We need people in our lives who want us in their lives as much as we want to be in theirs or want them in ours. If this isn’t existent, then it’s a toxic relationship. Constant sacrifices and compromise of ourselves are not recipes for a healthy relationship.

COMPROMISE:  This is on the heels of balance is compromise. All relationships require a certain form of compromise. We can’t have everything we want in life, and we also can’t expect people to adhere to our every whim. What we can expect, though, is that we are going to be met halfway, that those we are involved with are concerned with our well being and needs. We need to be able to make certain concessions but at the same time understand that it’s happening on both sides.

COMMUNICATION: To be able to communicate is key. We need to be able to have an open line, where we feel safe and comfortable to express ourselves. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be silenced or stifled. If we are holding back out of fear of repercussions or rejection we are only causing damage to ourselves.

HEALTH: This should obvious, but the second that a relationship is detrimental to our health, both physical and emotional then we should walk away.  If a relationship is overly stressful, or we find ourselves crying or distraught more than we are happy, then why stay? If we stop eating or overeat, if we can’t sleep at night…then why, WHY put up with it? We shouldn’t because don’t have to.

BEHAVIOR/ATTITUDE: A major sign that someone is no longer the best presence in our life is when our behavior and attitude start to take a detrimental turn, and it’s time to examine why. I have been driven to crazy behavior when I was caught up in a toxic relationship. I can tell you stories of hysterical acts, running down the street after someone at 2am in my pajamas, tears streaming down my face.  I look back at this and wonder what the hell was I thinking. Are fights normal? Absolutely, things can’t be perfect all the time.  But when we start doing things out of character, when we start losing our grip on reality, when we enter the world of crazy…there is nothing good or ok about that, and it's time to come back to the land of sanity.

PRESENT DAY: It’s very easy to reminisce in the past, to think about all of the good times and use them as excuses to stick around for someone. While the past counts for something, something major, we can not use it as our only crutch. The past serves as the foundation and building blocks for relationships, but even the strongest buildings require maintenance.  We can’t shoot cannon balls at a structure and expect it to hold up because it used to be a fortress.  We need to look at the present day, the things happening in the here and now and determine whether the present is strengthening the ties or dismembering them.

FEELINGS:  We need to listen to ourselves, because often times our subconscious is onto something. The minute we start questioning things we need to be cognizant of the fact that it’s happening for a reason.  I have had friendships with people that I, ultimately, didn’t trust, that I didn’t feel had my best intentions, yet I stayed friends with them because I didn’t want to lose the relationship. But what kind of relationship is that? It isn’t one. I have dated people who I wasn’t entirely happy with but haven’t broken up with them because I didn’t want to fail. I’ve been in situations where I have met someone else that I liked more, that I wanted to be with but yet I stayed with my current partner out of some kind of misplaced loyalty. I realize now that I may not be with the "other" person, but perhaps they were placed in my path not to date, but to show me that what I had wasn’t right.

TURN THE TABLES: I find this exercise is highly effective in almost any life situation. Say your story and your feelings out loud, or write them down. Then think about it, but from a different perspective. Pretend like it’s a good friend coming to you with this predicament. What would your advice them to be? Then follow it.  

ACCEPTANCE: Sometimes we need to accept that things change. People change, we change. The most successful relationships are the ones in which we evolve together, where we grow together, not apart. The right people in our lives are receptive, not resistant, to this. Sometimes we need to take a step back, see the writing on the wall and realize that it's just not right. That giving up is not an act of defeat but one of strength. That walking away is not a failure but of an actualization of reality and facts. That sometimes we are better off without someone in our life.

OTHERS: Look at your relationships with your other friends or think back to past romantic relationships. Were they this complicated or difficult? The answer is probably not. So this one shouldn't be either.


This is a little bit more complicated because it’s difficult to walk away from a steady job, jobs are our livelihood. As much as we’d like to, we can’t survive sans income but we also shouldn’t stay in a job that is making us miserable simply for the paycheck. The truth is, that leaving a job is scary but not as scary as the adverse effects that can come with hating your life because of your job. When the toils of your life in the office spill over into your personal life, than it’s time to reevaluate and find something better suited. The same thing goes for dreams. We all have them, but we need to be realistic about whether  they are actually attainable and what we wanted or thought we wanted is actually what is best for us.

The bottom line is:  Our jobs should make us feel inspired and positively challenged. People in our lives should bring out the best in us, should make us feel better about ourselves, not worse. When we find this is no longer the case, we need to walk. We need people who care about us like we do them. We need to think, really think, about whether or not this is worth it. The truth is though, if we even have to think about it, then it probably isn’t. We have to stop making excuses for people, and most importantly to ourselves. Excuses are a form of denial, and drowning in them only prolongs the inevitable, causing unnecessary stress and drama in our lives when there doesn't need to be any.

Remember: This is all a learning experience: people, jobs, things. These are all part of the story that we are writing for ourselves, some chapters are shorter than others. Some chapters make us cry, some make us laugh. However, without them, the story is incomplete. We need them to be who we are. It isn't about winning or losing, it's about staying true to who we are.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How to lose 12 days in Burma/Myanmar

Lake Inle
 It’s been almost three months since I touched down in Burma. The stories regaled to me from all of friends who’d gone and fallen under its spell were enough to propel me into buying a ticket. I had only heard wonderful things about the country and I wanted to see it for myself. The trip was also special because it was one I had planned with my former housemate Karen, and it was kind of our last hurrah together in Asia. The thing that got me through the subsequent weeks following her departure.
Lake Inle

I was incredibly excited to get there and experience everything I had heard from my trusted peer travelers, and before delving into details, I will attest to everything I’d heard being 100% true. it's a wonderful country, and with only 300,000 visitors a year (as opposed to the 14 million Thailand sees) is still relatively unspoiled by the perils of being a tourist trap. Walking around it's almost a rarity to see another white face, unless it was a famous landmark or a guest house, in which case we’d see one or two other tourists. I liked that feeling. I am always a bit disappointed when I travel somewhere and it is so overrun with tourists that I don’t see any local people aside from those who are working. (As much as I adore Hoi An, the downtown area is like that now)

 I also fell in love with the people, which everyone says but I concur completely. I never quite understood what people could mean when they came back and said, “The people are just…phenomenal.” I find people incredible everywhere so was curious who this could be different, yet somehow it was. The people are, in my opinion, what make the country. They enchant. They are the epitome of warmth and graciousness and have a genuine desire to engage with foreigners, not seeing us as walking ATMS, but as a gem, a piece of the outside world that they are so shut away from. There are, of course, people who try and sell things, or vendors that overcharge, but this is few and far between, and the sellers are often very respectful when you say no. The people are (seemingly) positive and happy despite being under such an allegedly oppressive regime. My favorite moments in the country were not when I was scaling a magnificent temple in Bagan, or drinking in the sights of Inle, but were the times with the people, sitting with them, interacting with them, having them ask for me to take their picture just so they could see what it looks like, sharing meals and cultural tidbits, their intrigue and curiosity radiating from them, It’s impossible to not feel a connection, for their joy and delight to not spill over into our demeanor. They are a testament to strength, to faith and to what is good about the human race.

My Itinerary:

May 5-6: Yangon
Customs/passport control relatively easy. There is one bureau de change place in the airport so it's super crowded, don't go there, as it also has poor exchange rates. You can take a taxi to the city and pay USD. Should be about $10. We stayed a hostel (Golden Smiles Inn) we heard about from Lonely Planet. It was cheap, safe, ok. Nothing special. Only accepted dollars. had street food for dinner (Indian) and went to Chinatown for drinks. The next day, we got our palms read which was interesting and enlightening, we went to Sule Paya and got overnight bus tickets for Bagan, which is a 10 hour bus ride. Yangon doesn’t have motorbikes.

May 7-9: Bagan 
We arrived in Bagan around 4am, exhausted from the frigid, music pumping bus journey we’d been on. We found a horse cart driver who took us to a guest house and on the way there I was struck by us driving down a deserted road, lit only by the full moon and stars, and no sounds other than the clip clop of the horse against the road. The romantic in me imagined myself in Victorian England, relishing in the moment. We got to our hotel and crashed immediately, to get a few hours before exploring temples. The temples were great, and we had a nice driver. We watched the sunset and I bought artwork. That night we went to a small café which resulted in my getting terrible food poisoning, leaving me completely incapacitated the next day and a few days after. Some people rode bikes, frankly I think it’s too hot and I like the horse cart approach, it’s traditional and also bolstering their economy. We left first thing on the 9th taking a local bus to Mandalay (8 hours)

May 9-11: Mandalay. 
Mandalay is not the highlight of Burma and the city itself is definitely not a "must see" by any means. Though if you go, which you probably will if you are doing the usual circuit,  get out of the city and go to Anamapura (You can make this a half day excursion, it's only like a 25min drive) and walk across the bridge and just wander around the river bank and meet all the people. They're lovely and it was one of my favorite days there. So you walk through the 'town" and you can either turn left onto the bridge or right down what seems to be an empty road. the right will lead you to all the villages, and it's really something. Children and people everywhere, it’s a true peek into authentic village life, and those who you come across will welcome your presence with open arms. There is real joy and love and contentment in this place. One striking moment was when we stopped to watch a game the local children were playing: the children stood in a big circle, one in the middle, and each had placed a shoe in the middle. The child in the middle served as a “guard” to protect the shoes, while the children in the circle had to try and get their shoe back. This game was reminiscent of childhood when we’d play outside, creating our own forms of entertainment. Not relying on video games or tablets or computers, but good old fashioned fun and imagination. We claim to be so advanced and innovative in our thinking, yet our children rarely leave the house and when faced with making their own fun, are at a loss. When did that happen? We can learn something from these children on the side of the river. That we don’t need an ipad to have fun with our friends, just a pair of shoes.  We left on the evening of the 11th via nightbus bus to Kalaw (10 hours)


May 12-13: Kalaw 
About an hour or so away from Lake Inle is the mountainous town of Kalaw which is pretty much the trekking capital of Myanmar. We went to a guesthouse and got the trek from there (listed in LP). You can either do 3 days 2 nights to Inle or 2 days 1 just around Kalaw. we did the latter. We had a wonderful guide who was very nice and helpful though irritated me because he kept asking if I was alright, and when I told him I was he’d say, “REALLY?” incredulously. The truth was, that I was fine, however, genius that I was, I didn’t pack sneakers, only flip flops and ballet flats so had to hike in my flip flops…. Not impossible but it took me a little bit longer than everyone else. By the end, my feet were raw and blistery but I was NOT going to stop or complain, didn’t want to prove the man right. The trek itself was, for the most part, manageable, but had a few heavy breathing moments but many breathtaking views. Our overnight part consisted of sleeping in a homestay…three of us to a small room. No electricity so we read by candlelight. The toilet was in an outhouse next to the pigs and the shower was a bucket next to the barn (we had an audience when we bathed, so had to keep our clothes on) but it was incredible. The food was out of this world, the best we’d had so far and the experience was fantastic.  Highly recommended.

May 13-15: Lake Inle (most touristy part but beautiful)
Lake Inle
After our trek, we, still smelly and dirty, hitched a ride on the back of a pick up and went to Inle. We stayed in the town, which was quite bustling but you can stay in hotels on the Lake Inle, which are nicer but more expensive but can make you feel a bit isolated. Still worth looking into. Did the  day boat tour, which is nice and stunning but each "village" is a tourist trap, though still recommend you doing it. Our second day we rode bicycles and made our way to natural hot springs that were turned into a spa type thing. For $6 we were in an essentially private pool area complete with lounge chairs and stunning scenery. It was beautiful and relaxing. Lake Inle is by far the most touristy part of Burma that we experienced.  It is where we saw the most other foreigners and also dealt the most with people trying to hustle us. It also failed to have a sugarcane juice stand anywhere. Took the night bus back to Yangon on the 15th (14 hours)
Lake Inle

May 16: Yangon
Arrived first thing in the morning and went straight to our guesthouse to sleep for a few hours. Spent some of the morning in a wifi cafeCame back for one last night. Did some shopping and saw the most Shwedagon Pagoda..

May 17-flew back first thing in the morning. Had a lunch and tea in Bangkok, was in Hanoi for dinner.

I wish I had more time there, I would’ve gone to the Bay of Bengal. Maybe next time. If you are interested in visiting this precious country with beautiful people, I say go. Go now. Go while it’s still relatively untouched. Go before tourism destroys it. Experience it for everything it has to offer. Meet the people. Let it change you.

      1. VISA:  If you’re coming from Vietnam or any country that makes it remotely difficult for you to obtain a visa, save yourself the trouble and get it in Bangkok. Not only are AirAsia flights from Bangkok to Yangon very reasonable ($70 each way) but the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok has it down to a science (you can even get same day for an additional fee!) You should arrive at the Embassy (an easy BTS ride) a good hour before it opens. You should see, about 50 m away, a sign for a photocopy shop,(you have to make a right down a small street)…go there and they will sort you out with everything you need: passport photocopies, application form, and everything organized properly. It’s ridiculously inexpensive and hassle free. Then cue up at the Embassy and go on in. You have to wait in line with your application form, turn it in, and then sit down. Then you wait about 15-45 minutes, and they call you back and you give them your passport and payment (must be in Thai Baht) and they give you a receipt. You return in the afternoon. Pick up begins at 4pm (I think, maybe it’s 3), but there is a LONG line. Huge. Get there an hour early. Trust me on this. I am not a punctual person. I show up at the airport 45 minutes before my international flight. This isn’t a joke. Also, these rumors that you need a full itinerary, not true. We needed our flight itinerary but only because we wanted same day service. 

2. MONEY: If you’re traveling to Burma you’ve heard that you have to carry flat and perfect USD in 100s. What I didn’t know was: a) They also prefer the money to be made after 2006, which is surprisingly not easy to find on a whim. And B) certain serial numbers (AB being one of them) are deemed unlucky, so they will reject your notes with those serial numbers. Just carry an extra $200 just in case.

What I didn't know is that you need to pay $10 USD to leave, so make sure to have that. Also, some hotels only accept dollars, and places like Inle it's cheaper to pay by USD than khet. So i'd bring about $50-60 in smaller bills.

Change money at the bank. The rate is better. Don’t change on the street. You can also change dollars back at the bank. Bring your passport.

3.     GUIDANCE. I don't normally like Lonely Planet but it's actually pretty useful in Burma, in regards to finding hostels and hotels and stuff. The prices will probably be off and some places may not exist but it's a good source of where to stay. Though beware that it’s very backpackery and you’ll see the same people over and over again. Book is not good for finding shops. I drove around for almost two hours looking for a specific shop. 

      4.BUDGET: Like a lot of places, there is a range of what you can spend on a holiday in Burma, it is entirely possible to survive on a shoestring budget of $35 per day. However, to have a better time, I'd budget $50-70 a day, unless you want luxury, which you can also do in some places. 

     5.     TRANSPORT. Getting from city to city is done either by bus, plane, or private car. We took buses everywhere, which was ok but they take a long time. They're either really local or very modern. The latter requires a sweater and socks for the freezing air con. None of the buses have reading lights. 

6.     FOOD: Burma is not known for its cuisine and there is a reason for that. The Indian food is decent but everything else failed to impress. Stick to the basics. Avoid smoothies and fruit juices. One thing to definitely try: the hot milky tea: it’s deliciously addictive.

7.     ATTIRE: This is a conservative country, so be mindful and respectful of that. Women should keep their shoulders covered, and showing too much leg is probably not wise. It’s not illegal, but just frowned upon. You will attract more attention than you should if you’re scantily clad.

8.     COMMUNICATION: Getting a SIM card is expensive (like $70 when we went) and internet cafes are available but the connection is spotty at best and can get expensive. Your best bet is the five star hotels or wifi cafes in Yangon. Also we found a place in Lake Inle (Inle Pancake Kingdom) that had wifi. It’s probably best that you tell your friends and family that you’ll be off the grid for a while…and relish in the feeling of truly being on vacation!

9.     DISCRETION: It’s better to not discuss hot button topics openly, and especially not with locals. Also, if traveling as a couple, keep your PDA action to a minimum. That kind of thing just isn’t done in Myanmar. Be discreet in your behavior and conversations. My advice to those who have an issue with political situations: if it bothers you that much, don’t go to the country. By visiting Myanmar, you’re supporting the regime and the people, so don’t waste your time trying to make a statement once you’re there.

10.  ECONOMY: be mindful of the fact that you’re in a third world country with a shaky economy. A lot of the people you come across live hand to mouth, and are truly decent people not trying to rip you off, but merely trying to make a living and provide for their family. Unless something is outrageously high, it is better to graciously accept the price. Believe me, I’ve lived in Asia for almost three years and I am all about bargaining, but in Myanmar to do so in an intense degree is missing the point of the country and depriving yourself and the people. What is a dollar to you is a meal for their whole family.