Monday, December 22, 2008

KL and Singapore

I arrived in KL at 5 am in the morning after traveling for a little over a day. I was sleeping soundly on the train and had just woken up to get off the bus, needless to say I was a little groggy. I was immediately greeted by several "wild" (still in a Macedonian mentality) taxis and trying to get my bearings straight. I weaved through the mess to pick up my things. It was early and the hostel's reception did not open until 9 am. It was about a 20 minute walk to the hostel in very humid weather. When I arrived, I was quite sweaty and desperately was seeking a shower. I had informed the hostel that I would arrive in the wee hours of the morning and they had said that someone would answer the door, but no one came. So I looked around and found a cheap hotel so I could just take a shower.

I went into the hotel and put my stuff down. I had no Malaysian Ringgit on me and I had not seen an ATM in the vicinity. The receptionist let me into the room and shower before I had to pay. I took a very refreshing shower, then headed out to find an ATM, which are surprisingly hard to locate in KL. I suddenly found a street with a slew of ATMs. I went to the first one, not expecting any problems, but as I tried to withdraw money... "Transaction Cancelled" showed up on the screen. Okay, no big deal, just try the next ATM. Next ATM, same result. Okay, something is amiss. ATM after ATM just kept repeating the phrase "Transaction Cancelled." At that point I was a bit worried, but I just had to call the bank. Unfortunately, I had no Ringgit on me; what I did have were Thai Bahts, but it was Sunday morning and no exchange offices were open. I went into a bank and after talking with them, they were nice enough to let me exchange some Bahts for Ringgits. I also asked if I could make a phone call to my bank and see if there was a problem. Of course I would have to pay, but I was expecting the bill to be somewhere around RM40 or so. The call lasted about 40 minutes, and my bank said that nothing was wrong and transfered me to Visa Fraud Protection who also proceeded to tell me nothing was wrong. Visa Fraud said that my PIN would have to be reset and after a day it would be fine. So this 40 minute phone call really accomplished nothing. I hung up and the hotel receptionist called for the cost of the phone call. The total for the phone call.... RM 152 (43 USD) which is about 4 times as expensive as Macedonia. I think I only had RM100 on me and I needed at least 50 of that to pay for the hotel, so I was in a bit of a rough situation. I tried using my checkcard to pay but it said "Do Not Honor." I wasn't sure what I was going to be able to do, but to my surprise the clerk said, "Don't worry about it." I was quite grateful for this gesture and very relieved. He had just let me make a $40 phone call for free! At least one thing went my way.

I checked into the hostel and they said I could pay when this bank situation was cleared up. With no money, I decided to hang around the nearby mall for the day. The mall was called Times Square and it was gigantic, ten stories of shopping glory and even an indoor roller coaster. I'm not kidding. I had a "I'm not in Kavadarci anymore" moment while looking at all the excess and consumerism. It was very overwhelming. Plus I think there were as many people in Kavadarci as there were in the mall... maybe not, but it seemed that way. The best thing about Malaysia is the different cultures, ethnicities and dress so spending the day at the mall was great people-watching. Malaysia is a Muslim country and the Muslim women all wear headscarves. However, it's not the black dress and headscarves that you find in Arab countries. The women here have headscarves of every different color that coordinate with their dresses that they wear. It's a very colorful scene. On top of that you will see Indian women wearing sari along with a bindi (the Hindu forehead dot). Then you'll have a Chinese woman wearing some more "Western" fashions. Also, there are Arab Muslims that come to KL for holiday and the women are wearing all black in this 90 degree weather and humidity! It's really quite a sight.

The following day, I woke up and tried my ATM card again. I was optimistic in thinking that it would work this time. As I tried to withdraw money... same result as yesterday. Uh oh. I tried several more ATMs after that. No dice.... Crap, I have absolutely no money and I cannot seem to access it. I went into a bank and asked what the problem might be. The teller told me that sometimes foreigners have a problem with their ATMs because in Malaysia they use an extra chip on their cards. So the problem is a matter of compatibility with my card? I called my bank again and they again stated that there was no problem with my card and that it should be working. The bank even said that my card was not being read because they would have a record of my attempts to withdraw money. So I guess the problem was that my card wasn't being read by the sophisticated ATM machines of KL. So after going back to the hostel, I figured out the best way to get money would be through a money-wiring service. Unfortunately, they were all closed in KL at that time. One more day without money. I had not eaten and did not have a Ringgit on me. Sarah, a girl that worked at the hostel, was gracious enough to lend me money so I could eat. I am eternally grateful for the kindness that I had been shown in KL. That meal I ate, was about the best meal I had eaten in a while perhaps due to the fact that I hadn't eaten all day. With no money, I could not do anything for yet another day.

Finally, on day three I had money wired to me. Holding that Malaysian Ringgit was a very relieving experience and I think I was probably the happiest person in Malaysia at that time. I extended my stay at the hostel for one more night (I had originally planned to go to Singapore that day) so I could cram one day of sight-seeing in. I did as much as I could. I visited the Petronas Towers (pictured above) and then headed to Chinatown. From Chinatown I visited the Batu Caves a little outside of town. I would suggest that anyone that visits KL take the journey and see the caves. The public bus takes around a hour to get there, but it's a nice ride through all of KL. I think there are some companies that serve the caves direct from Sentral, but I am sure they are much more expensive. The #11 Metrobus leaves from Chinatown in front of the Bangkok Bank and the ticket is only RM2. The caves are a series of Hindu Temples, with a 43-m high Murga Statue in front of the caves. There are 272 steps to climb, and I, of course, went at the peak of the sun which made the climb up quite unbearable, but there were several monkeys along the way that are begging for food for some entertainment.

After returning from the caves, I visited the Menara Kuala Lumpur, or KL tower, to watch the sunset. I was able to get a 360 view of all of Malaysia. The one surprising thing about KL is how developed and metropolitan it is compared to Bangkok. Bangkok is very metropolitan, but KL seems cleaner and a bit more business-oriented.

The hostel I stayed at was the Equator Hostel. It was a great hostel and the staff there was very helpful and friendly. The people that stayed there were great too. I opted for a private room, which was nice, but there are also shared rooms as well. I would recommend this hostel for anyone staying in KL.

I took a bus from KL to Singapore. In KL, the bus agency that I purchased the ticket was in the bottom floor of the mall. The trip on the bus took about 7 hours including going through customs. The line that I took was directed at Chinese people and the driver only spoke Mandarin, which was good for me since I understood any directions he had for the bus (when breaks were, customs etc.).

Singapore was rather expensive, which is very interesting considering the countries that are near it. The city is very modern and very Western. There is a lot of business that runs through Singapore. I did not do too much in Singapore due to the price of most things and there isn't much to "sight-see" in my opinion. Singapore really has a lot of shopping, which again requires spending of money. Much like Malaysia, I was fascinated with the people and the diversity there. I think that the cultures of both Singapore and KL mix a lot more than in Chicago. In Chicago, every ethnic neighborhood tends to keep to its own and there is little mixing of cultures going on. However, in Singapore and KL you can see this mixture just crossing the street. On one block in Chinatown, there was a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, and a mosque all within 5 minutes walk from each other. I don't know if you could find such an occurrence so easily in America. I visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum which was a highlight of Singapore. There were thousands of Buddha statues and other deities. There was also some sort of Buddhist prayer/learning session going on as well, and to make it even better the entry to the Temple was free.

I also had a chance to go have a beer at the Long Bar, which is quite famous from what I read. It was nice being able to sit and have a beer at a bar, but the beer was more expensive than in America (18 S$ or 12 USD). I am not too sure what the draw of the bar was, but since it is in a lot of guidebooks there were a lot of tourists there drinking overpriced beer.

What struck me about Singapore is how clean it is. There are heavy fines for just about everything which in turn makes the city very clean. What was strange was, even though there were so many laws and fines, I hardly saw any policemen around. Perhaps the Singaporeans just police themselves and respect the laws of the land. Another great thing about Singapore is the MRT. Through the MRT, one can access pretty much the entire country, given that Singapore is so small. It runs very efficiently and the most time I had to wait for a train was about 5-6 minutes. There are also TV monitors letting passengers know how soon a train would arrive. In keeping up with the diversity of Singapore, all the announcements are given in three different languages: Mandarin, English and what I believe is Malay, but I'm not too sure.

The hostel I stayed at was the Axis Hostel. It was very clean and very well maintained. When I first checked-in, the staff seemed very curt and not so friendly. However, during the daytime they were most helpful. The hostel lets its guests use free WiFi so there were a lot of laptops out in the common room, but there was also very little socializing going on. There was also not a locker to store my valuable possessions which would have been a nice option to have. The best feature of the hostel was the location. Axis is situated right outside the MRT system so one can easily access the city. The hostel was good for the price especially considering how much things cost in Singapore. I think this picture of the rules is very humorous. I would like to think that refraining from taking a sh*t on the floor would be common sense to most people, but apparently not.

I am glad I took the week and saw KL and Singapore. These two places are vastly different from Bangkok. I will now fly from Singapore to Bangkok on Tiger Air. The tickets are relatively cheap and you can access a lot of southeastern Asia through Singapore. I paid $134 for my ticket back to Bangkok, which includes extra money for my enormously sized backpack. If I had taken a train, it would cost roughly $70-80 for sleeper cars, I would have to switch trains twice, and it would have taken two days to get back to Bangkok. I didn't feel like "wasting" that time sitting on a train so I opted for a 2 hour flight instead.

Back to Bangkok then off to Northern Thailand....

For more pictures:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bangkok to KL

Before leaving Bangkok, I at first tried to get a train ticket the day before I had wanted to leave. When I went to the train station, all the tickets were sold out and for the following day. This woman, who I believed worked there, showed me to a "tourist information" office. This office was in the back side of the train station and somewhat hidden. I went there, and this gentleman tried to get me a bus ticket to Kuala Lumpur. It seemed great, the bus would get me a day quicker than the train would, not to mention I would also have to change trains twice in order to get from Bangkok to KL. However, the direct bus was also sold out. "Luckily" there was still room on a bus, same timing, but I would have to switch buses at Surathani to Hat Yai, which would be a "micro bus" then back to an air-con bus from Hat Yai to KL. The total cost for this was 1900 baht (55.50 USD), which seemed a bit pricey to me considering Thai standards. I think the train would have cost a little less and I would have had a sleeper car. In retrospect I should have at least priced out another option, but the MRT went straight to the train station (where the bus I was taking was leaving from) and the North Bus Terminal is quite far away from the train station. I would have had to go to the bus station, see if there were any tickets available at what cost, if not then come back to the train station to hopefully still have this seat available. I settled for either convinience or out of laziness... take your pick.

The bus left at 7:00 pm from the tran station. Since it is a train station, I wasn't too sure where to go to get the bus. The man at the tourist office had said to go behind the KFC in the train terminal. I went there and there was a bus, but I showed the man the ticket and he told me to go back to the agency where I got it. At this point I realized there's probably more than one agency in the train station, and this woman that also works at the train station gets a little money to direct people like me to this certain one. Anyway, I went to the agency and I showed the ticket. The lady that worked there told me to follow this girl wearing a schoolgirl outfit outside of the agency. This schoolgirl, and I really believe she was a schoolgirl, would show me to the bus. Okay... She took me and we walked for about 5-10 minutes through some weird alleyways. It was all a bit strange. We finally arrived at the bus and I loaded my stuff in it.

Since I had not slept much the night before... I was completely out for the entire ride. There were not many people on the bus so I could lay out in the back between four seats. It was great. Since there were not many people, I figured I would be able to go straight to KL without even switching buses. How wrong I was. I woke up whenever we stopped, and around 5:30 am we stopped. I wasn't quite sure where we were and I just had wanted to stretch my legs. I got out of the bus, and the bus driver had taken my pack and put it off the bus. He told me that I was going to switch buses now, so I quickly went back on the bus to grab the rest of my things. We were apparently in Surathani, but it wasn't a bus station that we had stopped at. It was a "travel agency." This agency was on some back road somewhere in the city, and it was all a bit strange. Everything was closed except this one agency and a few street food vendors. There were just two older Thai men that were "working" there. I asked one man when the bus to Hat Yai would be and he responded 6:00 am. As 6:00 am quickly passed, I just figured this was like Macedonia and things ran a little late. However, at 6:15 am he told me to follow him. He led me through an alley and a street food vendor area to another agency. It again was quite strange. I waited there until 7:00 am, until a "micro bus"or a kombi (small van like bus) picked me up. We made several stops within Surathani and then we were off to Hat Yai. I was the only foreigner on this bus, but it was quite comfortable. The only problem was there was no air-con and since we were traveling during the middle of the day it was quite hot inside the micro bus. We made a few stops on the way for food and breaks, but as we were approaching Hat Yai.. I noticed that I would be late for the 10:00 am bus that I was supposed to be on to KL. I was wondering if this bus would wait or if I would have to stay in Hat Yai for the whole day. As we entered Hat Yai, we made several stops within the city to let off people at the various locations. I was the last one to be let off at another strange hole in the wall travel agency. I was told that the next bus to Hat Yai would be at 6:00 pm. So I had to spend 6 hours with my packs and all wandering around Hat Yai. Luckily, I just put my huge pack down at the counter and wandered around one street and pretty much ate all day.

As 6 pm approached, I was taken from the agency I arrived at to yet ANOTHER agency. This one in the center of the town. We picked up another passagenger from another agency on the way there. This bus was a standard travel bus with full air-con. At 7 pm, I was finally on my way to KL.

I had spent a little over 24 hours traveling, been to 5 different travel agencies and rode on three different buses. It was a strange experience, not knowing what was coming next, not to mention the whole weirdness of going to these hole in the wall travel agencies not once but five different times. I am curious how this operation works. The travel agencies did not have any "logo"or anything in common, so I wondered how they all kept in touch with each other. Internet is obviously out of the question, so it must be through phone. And how do they all get their share of the pie? 1900 divided by 5 agencies not to mention the woman that showed me there must get a small portion and this is on top of the travel costs.

So I left Bangkok at 7:00 pm on December 12th and then arrived in KL on 5:00 am December 14th. I should have bought tickets much more in advance and perhaps have sidestepped all this weirdness.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


After living in Kavadarci for two years, Bangkok was quite the culture shock. With a population of 8.1 million, Bangkok is a little over three times as big as the entire country of Macedonia. There were just people everywhere, Thais and tourists alike.

The first morning, I was feeling the effects of jet lag. I was up at 7 am and another traveler suggested I go visit the nearby park. As I exited the hostel, I was greeted by a plethora of street food vendors with many varieties of food. This was at 7 am. In Kavadarci, there's definitely not any traffic on the street that early. I think I hear the gjeverik (a bagel like concoction sold on the streets) man start making his rounds around 9-10 am. It was a bit surprising to see that many people bustling about so early in the morning. People had places to go and things to do, which is much different than the "ima vreme" (there is time) mentality of Macedonia. I chose to grab a fried egg and some rice and sat down in the park. At 7 am, there were joggers, bike riders, and people practicing tai chi all around the park. I really was in a bit of a shock of how many people were out doing things that early in the morning, I think it's more of a byproduct of living in Macedonia for so long.

The first day, I decided to see all the tourist sites and ruins. The Grand Palace is truly breathtaking. There's really nothing like that in the Balkans, I think the closest thing would have to be in Prague or in Greece. But the intracate artwork done and the use of colors is something to be seen. It was also interesting to see people praying to Buddha. They light incense or candles, bow three times, and then place them in a holder to burn. This is very reminiscent of Macedonian Orthodox, where they light candles, cross their hearts three times, then place the candles in holders for saints to burn. I also visited Wat Po and Wat Arun that day and I realized I have just replaced monastaries with temples and monks with priests. Why do places of religion attract so many tourists?

One of the best travel experiences to date was to go see a muay thai fight. I figured I was in Thailand and wanted to see a fight. In the arena, there are three levels of seats: ringside, 2nd class, and then 3rd class. All the Thais sit in the 2nd and 3rd class, which is like general admission, and gamble on the fighters. Also, there are two different prices for each level, one for Thais and one for foreigners. No, I didn't get ripped off, this is just how the system works. I had planned on getting 2nd class tickets just to experience a muay thai fight around Thai people. Also, I had a mental image from the media that this would be kind of gory and very violent. I was not that ready to sit ringside to see all the gore and violence that close. However, as I approched the ticket counter a lady, who was working for the arena, tried to sell me on a ringside ticket. I think I haggled her for a while because I was pretty adamant about sitting in 2nd class. She even brought me into the arena to see the ringside seats. I finally asked her why she was pushing this ringside ticket so much. Apparently, the ticket sellers like herself only get a commission on the ringside tickets. Somehow, I convinced her I only had brought 1600 baht, which was only 100 more than a 2nd class ticket, and she sold me ringside anyway.

As soon as I walked in, I think I realized that the ringside was worth it. It was just worth not having the hassle and being able to pull out my camera whenever I felt like it. I think I would have felt a bit awkward standing with so many Thai people. Plus, I got some very cool shots sitting so close. The big night at the Lumphini Boxing Stadium is Tuesdays. They schedule 8-10 fights which are usually 5 rounds at 3 minutes each. I got to see the Featherweight muay thai champion of Thailand crowned that night. Anyway, since I had never been to a fight this was quite an experience for me. One of the best parts of the fight is what the fighters do before the fight. The fighters come in one at a time, with robes, a head band-type thing, and flowers draped around their necks. They then proceed to do this elaborate "dance" which is a giving of thanks to the gods of boxing for the fight. It's really quite a cool sight. The fighting itself was something I did not really expect. During the fight, there is Thai music being played live. There is a drum an instrument that sounds like it would charm a snake. Apparently, this is to help the fighters keep in rhythm. During the first two rounds or so, when they are sizing each other up, the right leg bounces up and down. I imagine this is to either attack or prepare to defend, but either way it was also in rhythm. It seemed to me like the first two rounds are part of an elaborate dance. After those two rounds, the fighters connect with more blows. I think one of the best things about it was the excitement of it all. In each fighter's corner, there is an area where his posse stands. I imagine these are trainers and family members as I saw several children in there as well. I was sitting in the blue corner, so whenever the fighter in blue would connect on a hit, the posse would all yell and scream. It was very intense. Coupled with that, are the Thais that are betting on either fighter yelling whenever a blow is being landed. It is quite an intense experience but it was one of my most memorable ones as well. Overall I think I spent 2000 baht (roughtly 57 USD) for the ticket and beer, which is quite expensive in Thai standards. However, the experience as a whole was definitely worth it. I would suggest that anyone that visits Thailand at least see on muay thai fight even if it's not really your "thing."

One thing that I think is very interesting about Bangkok is the shrines that are placed throughout the city. These shrines are placed by hotels, shopping centers, and other commercial buildings, but they put these really religious icons right next to them. This picture is of the Erwan shrine. There was live Thai music and dancers performing for the shrine as well. I think the picture just embodies the uniqueness of Thailand. Among all these skyscrapers and Skytrain lines, there is this religious icon.

My hostel was on Silom road, which is a business district by day and a night market by night. There are hundreds of vendors selling everything from shirts, toys, and music. A street over was Patpong, the red-light district. So among all these stands, are people trying to lure people with "Sex DVDs" which is really going to a "massage" parlor, sex show or a ping-pong show. I enjoyed listening to each one of them try and sell me on their product so I tried to talk to them. One man had a particularly good pitch, and I decided to go with him. I figured I wanted to see how this worked and what was going to happen. I was just going to his "bar" to have a beer, in my mind, and see how this whole process worked. I walked into the bar, and about 20 girls lined up in front of me. Each one wore a number. I tried to tell the bar owner that I just came in for a beer, but he told me that I was alone and it was more fun to have someone with me. I kept insisting that I just drink my beer alone, but at that point the owner of the bar proceeded to get angry. I felt bad choosing a girl out of all of them, it just said that you're prettier than the rest or whatnot. Anyway, I chose a girl and she sat down. She ordered a drink, which I had to pay for, and tried to sell me on her. After a while, I felt kind of bad for her. I decided to purchase her time, but to just talk with her and have her show me around. We walked the red-light district and talked for a while and I found out how this whole operation works. The girl gets a flat rate of 800 baht (22.95 USD) for her "services" and the bar gets 500 baht (14.34 USD). The person that brings in the customer gets anything over this. So I only paid 1500 baht, so this guy only got 200 baht. Some people come in and pay 5000 baht, but even so the girl still gets the flat rate of 800 baht. In that case, the guy that brought him in gets 3700 baht. I asked her why she did this work, and she said that the average Thai person makes around 5000 baht per month. She pulls in an average of 3 customers per day, so in two days she makes what an average Thai person makes a month. Also, she did not attend university and just finished high school. To top this all off, she was 22 and had a 4 year old son and was divorced. Crazy. I assume that she either enjoyed talking to me, or she felt bad that she didn't perform her services on me so she invited me to hang out with her and her friends after they were done. She bought this crazy crab salad, the crab was alive, the street food vendor killed it, tore it apart, mixed it with some vegetables and served it raw, and she also bought beer. I offered to pay for at least part of it, which at that point she responded "No, I'll slap you." I hung out with her and her friends until 6 am, and it was really quite fun.

My last night in Bangkok was quite memorable as well. I had met these two guys at the hostel who were both from LA. They had been in Bangkok for quite some time now, I think it was around 2 months or so. We all went out, and after a while we decided to go to a place that they had been to called Sky Club. This place is pretty off the radar and is targeted towards Thai people. I was a little unsure what this place was, but I went along for the ride. Sky Club is like a coyote bar or a "social" club. You pay for a girl to sit and hang out with you, and that's it. As I've read online, you have to be "very, very lucky" to get a phone number from the girl. If it progresses into anything, it will, but the girl is paid to just hang out with you and drink your alcohol. This place was also a whiskey bar, serving mainly Johnny Walker Black... what a dream. That first JW Black after two years was such a treat, little did I know how much I would consume of it. We went in and were met by another row of girls. I decided I wanted to just relax for a bit and see if I felt like choosing a girl. As time passed, I decided to choose a girl. I chose a girl named Fi. As we sat down, I realized she knew very little English. The girl of the other guy I was with knew English fairly well, and asked me if I wanted to choose again. I was curious to see how this would turn out with Fi and a bit guilty if I "returned" her, so I decided to stick it out. After a few awkward exchanges, she busted out a drinking game with dice that she made up. And there was the key, alcohol. After that game was over, she knew the "guessing fists" Chinese game, and we played that. Incidentally, I learned 0,5,10,15,20 in Thai. This makes me think that if you need to know one drinking game in Asia, that's the one. Fi and I were actually having a lot of fun. Throughout the night, we played pool and danced. She was pretty impressed with my dancing "skills" as I imagine a lot of Thai men don't dance very well. I actually think that she liked me, perhaps it was the alcohol as well, but I am pretty sure that she did. I was surprised on how we could communicate with such a language barrier, but as I have learned from the Peace Corps, body language is great along with alcohol too. Anyway, at the end of the night she actually asked me for my phone number. Alas, I was heading to KL the next day and had no phone, but she actually asked for my number. That was probably the most memorable night in Bangkok. I am contemplating returning to Bangkok for just a few more nights after KL and Singapore before I head north. I guess the beauty of my whole trip is that I have no plan, if I want to stay in Bangkok for a month I can. But for now, I feel like I should be seeing other places as well. Off to KL...

Monday, December 08, 2008


Well, after three planes I have finally arrived here in Bangkok. It was strange leaving the continent that I called my home for two years. I had a lot of good memories in Europe and will think back to that time in my life very fondly. Europe has so much to offer and I will be back to explore the places that I did not get a chance to visit.

It was strange being in the airport of Doha. There were so many people of different ethnicities and nationalities around. It was somewhat overwhelming. I couldn't help but stare at groups of people and ethnicities that I hadn't seen in quite some time. I saw a group of Arabs and I just couldn't help myself listening to their conversation, trying to figure out the language they were speaking, and figuring out who they were. On the same hand, it's nice to be a bit annonymous right now, it's not like I fit in but I don't stand out in such an obvious way anymore. Perhaps I'll miss the attention I got, but for now I enjoy being a part of the crowd.

I haven't done anything since I got to Bangkok except take a taxi to the hostel. While driving in, I got a little overwhelmed. Bangkok has a population of 6 million, which is about three times as large as the entire population of Macedonia. There were just so many people on the streets and it was so crowded. It seemed like people had a purpose and places to go. I also haven't really seen a skyscraper in a few years, and the flashing signs and tall buildings made me realize how small I actually am. I am excited to start exploring tomorrow, just to be another face in the crowd, just to see another continent. But for now... I wish I could sleep.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Two years. Two years have passed and I am officially a former Peace Corps volunteer. Today, I left Macedonia and am not sure if I will return anytime soon. I am turning the page and starting a new chapter in my life it is a scary time as well as an exciting time. On the one hand, I am ready to move on, but on the other hand I miss my life that I had in Kavadarci. This change has not completely sunk in yet, I am sure it will not sink in until I am in the plane or even back in America.

The last week that I spent in Macedonia was one of the best weeks I have spent in Macedonia. Due to my impending departure, I was finally able to play in a little jazz group with some of my friends. To my surprise, we meshed amazingly well in a musical sense. In a bittersweet moment, we realized that we should have been playing together since the beginning of my service. Only what could have been... It was tough fitting all my goodbyes in, not knowing if I would see the person again so I'd just say goodbye just in case. It was a mixed feeling of emotions as I left my home of two years. I will miss all the people that I have met especially those that cared for me.

I am often asked, looking back, if it was worth it. I can say without a doubt that the experience was worth all the tough times and the easy times. I believe I have grown as an individual and as a person. I suppose I won't know how much I have really changed until I am back in America . Before I came here, I meticulously planned each day and planned my future five years in advance. However, nowadays I barely even plan what I am going to do the next day.

My plane leaves for Bangkok tomorrow as I go on a journey of a lifetime. I have no plan for this trip, I am just going to wander around for a while. Perhaps I am putting off my life back home, or maybe I am just putting it on hold. I have no real plan when I return to the States, just a vague idea of one. I just know, that I am going to Bangkok tomorrow and in two days will be eating some great food.