Content with the Contents

In the months leading up to my departure date, I spent much of my free time reading of potential destinations and things to do at each place. At some point in my research I realized that I had given no consideration to the logistics involved. One thing I had given no consideration to yet was my packing list. Your typical trip involves one city with suitcases left in the hotel for the length of the vacation. My trip however involves multiple cities and one backpack that would contain my life for the duration of my travels. One day while doing my exploring the Internet for travel information I stumbled upon a backpacking suggestions website decided this was a great place to start and my list was underway.
Since it is my first trip and I’m rather meticulous when it comes organization, I read every last bit about the website. I read of the great debates plaguing backpackers including things like what kind of socks to bring, malaria medicine, and jeans or no jeans. I ended up dismissing most of the information offered by the website. Who really wants to spend $10 on a pair of over the top socks when a simple pack brought from Kohls will do me just fine? Maybe I’ll find out the answer is me after I’ve been traveling for a month.
While not using most of the website, I did manage I walk away with a suitable list. In my free time I stumbled upon a few more tips that helped improve my packing list. Firs tip I came across was if you don’t use it at home, why would you use it abroad? Good point. So I crossed a few items off my list. Second tip is that you can buy anything abroad. When I first came to China, I brought a lot of excess toiletries which could be bought at any store. Except deodorant. I went to about eight stores and two online stores and nothing. Chinese people don’t sweat, who knew? Third tip and I think is the most important which comes from me this time. (Woah) Don’t get lost in the details. Get a rough list and go. You’ll thank me later.

Every Day is an Adventure

Every morning I wake up at about 7:20. This gives me about 15 minutes to be fully prepared before heading out the door. I walk for a few minutes and take subway line 2, to 7, to 1, to 5 with roughly five minute transfer walk in between. Then I exit the metro, walk another fifteen minutes, and arrive at work an hour and a a half later. I do this twice a day, every day. Why you ask? Because I wanted the city but my company wanted the suburbs. Luckily I utilize this time to read, practice Chinese, play games, or sleep. One day I instead of my usual time passers, I decided to bring a camera to highlight some of the interesting things I see on my daily commute. 
These are x-ray machines that you’re supposed to place your bags in. Most people ignore them and the security guards don’t seem to care.

TVs in the metro stations. There are also smaller versions in the trains.

Too much reflection to fully express this picture. This right here I would consider the normal amount of people for a train. Seats fully taken with a lot of people standing.

Had to be sneaky for this. For 66% less than a taxi fare, these guys will give you rides on their motorcycles to work. They generally drive like maniacs. Took me several months but I finally took a ride. 

I think the irony of this picture is lost in the small size. The background says no dumping into the water.

It’s interesting where you find houses in China. This road is completely full of factories except for this house, if you can even call it that. If you look close enough a kid is peeing on the street.

If you’re a Shanghai resident than you can use these bikes. Being a resident of a city isn’t quite the same in the United States. I’m not sure of the exact requirements but of the 22 million people living in China, 9 million are not residents. 
One of the paths I walk along to work.

What is the Next One?

My time in China is quickly coming to an end. Friday I turn in my laptop and work ID, Sunday I hand over my room key, and Wednesday I am on a plane to Cambodia. Since I will no longer be living in Shanghai, my writing will begin to reflect that. I have however opened an exciting new page and will spend the next few months experiencing South East Asia. My hope is that these experiences will be just as rewarding as my time in Shanghai and I can share them with you.

Veering Away

One would think that upon satisfying a craving, the craving would cease to exist. In regards to travel, however, I think the opposite is happening. Instead of feeling content with China, I want more, lot more.

The first question that had to be answered was, when?
My plan was to travel with my one willing friend so as to avoid making my first international trip alone. His work schedule required that the trip occur during the one week of vacation for Chinese New Year. By adding an extra five days, this would constitute a sufficient amount of time for our journey. And so, the seed of the plant that would satisfy my travel craving was born.
The next question was where?
Originally, my mission was to plan a trip to Spain that would keep me occupied, sheltered, and fed. I started Spanish several years ago in high school and desired to keep learning. The best way, in my opinion, to make the transition from China to Spain would be across the Trans-Siberian Railway. The trip would start in Beijing and end in Moscow, stopping along the way at several cities in China, Mongolia, and Russia. From Russia, I would take more public transportation to get across Europe. It would be a two week journey along the railway and this suited the when part of the trip perfectly.
I utilized my connections in China to try and locate a position in Spain. In my pursuit, however, I stumbled upon news claiming that unemployment within Spain for people around my age was sitting at about 50%. Regrettably, such news led me to dismiss the idea of traveling to Spain in the near future.
The final killing blow for a Trans-Siberian trip came upon learning that winter temperatures in Russia reach a staggering -40 degrees Fahrenheit. The idea of spending two weeks wearing several layers and retreating inside as soon as the sun decides to hide for a brief moment did not sound appealing at all.
So it was back to square one. Some time was spent getting lost in the world map. I gave consideration to places like Australia, Japan, Tibet, and South East Asia. The final decision of South East Asia came down to unexciting things like costs and visas so I’ll spare you that process.
The problem with South East Asia is that it isn’t just one destination but a collection of many destinations. Southeast Asia is made up of countries including Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. To decide where to go, we did as engineers do, and approached the situation as a puzzle. Where should we start and end our journey so that our flight would not be missed? How would we spend the optimal amount of time seeing each new location? After contemplating this complicated puzzle, we managed a plan. Our trip would start in Phnom Penh with some travel within Cambodia and then east to Ho Chi Minh and north through Vietnam to Hanoi. We would cross the China border together and then we would part ways with him returning to work and me making my way through China back to Shanghai.
I took it upon myself to plan an itinerary. I visited Wikitravel and read every page they had to offer about Vietnam and Cambodia. From all the places we could visit, I narrowed the plan down to a simple route that could be finished in the time allotted. The only part missing was how to return to China. As I looked at the map I realized that if I turned west in Hanoi in the direction of Laos and Thailand, instead of returning to China, a whole new world of possibility opened up. And what did I do? I turned to the west.