August 21, 2011

Solo going

Hey friends! I'm back! Sorry for the brief hiatus, I was drafting a handful of posts from my hostel in Vancouver, but due to lack of sleep/very poor internet, they had to wait until I made it back home. 

On Friday morning I sat at an eight-person table that was only half full. We sat there with our large white plates that were scattered with pieces of toast or bagel halves smothered in raspberry jam and our full glasses of orange juice. We bit, we chewed, we gazed around... and none of us spoke. 

(Since I'm a morning person, this was super painful for me. But I recognize that I am one of only 32 people on the planet who love mornings, so I'm a bit more forgiving).

We all sat alone together. 

When was the last time you were by yourself? No, not the kind of "alone" you are right now as you're sitting at your computer reading this. And no, I don't mean when you were in your car driving to work in your hometown. I'm talking about the last time you were consciously aware that you were by yourself in an unfamiliar territory. Maybe it was at a restaurant, or at a clinic, or perhaps it was an aisle of the grocery store you had never needed to go to until you found that great new recipe.

I love watching people the instant they realize that they're by themselves (and trust me, I'm usually guilty of this). Often times it's in a bar or restaurant and their friend gets up for more drinks or to go use the bathroom. The loner left at the table immediately grabs either the drink menu (for reading material) or their cellphone, to appear as if they're loaded down with social engagements.

Being alone is sometimes awkward. But more often than not, it's empowering.

Exploring Vancouver on my own was perfect. I rented a bicycle and went around the entire perimeter of Stanley Park, which is adjacent to Vancouver's downtown area and it is surrounded by water on three sides. After my ride, I treated myself to a delicious smoked salmon benedict breakfast at a place simply and appropriately named "bistro."

Eating out is one of my favorite things of traveling alone (which I think I alluded to in an earlier post). I always treat myself to one, sometimes two, fantastic meals if I'm solo. I eat slowly and deliberately, and I can order whatever the hell I feel like because I know I will be the only one footing the bill. 

But sitting inside one's own head get's exhausting after a while, so I was thankful that I had great roommates in my hostel. Friday night, an Australian girl and I sought out Chinese food. We heard about this place called "Hon's" and when we found it, there were poor quality photos of noodle dishes that were labeled in badly translated English. Perfect.

The restaurant was a large cafeteria-style room with small tables and loud, chattering Chinese people. There were massive pots of dumplings boiling and one cook was kneading and pulling noodles. It was straight off the streets of Shanghai. We ate with chopsticks (duh), I practiced my now horrible Mandarin, and my food turned out to be nothing like what I thought I had ordered. It's nice to know that Chinese menus can still get the best of me on this side of the Pacific.. the food was delicious nonetheless.

My dinner guest was my age and she is searching for her first job out of college, too. After graduating from university in 2010 (like me), she moved from her town near Brisbane, Australia, to Armenia for a six-month program. She returned home this spring, got restless, and decided to pack two suitcases and fly to Vancouver. As of now, she's living in the hostel, but each day she's out in the city searching for work, an address, and friends to help her etch out a good life in Canada. And she's doing it alone, but with good faith it will all work out.

Three years ago when I was in Paris, I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower alone. In that moment I had the most intense feeling of homesickness I've ever felt -- there I was, atop one of the world's most iconic structures overlooking one of the greatest cities, and all I wanted to do was cry. I was surrounded by families and way too many lovey-dovey couples, and I was that girl holding my arm out to take a picture of myself. That nasty, knotted feeling prompted me to call it the "Eiffel Tower Syndrome," or "ETS." I've periodically experienced ETS since then, but I can recognize and deal with the feeling better now than I could that afternoon in Paris. 

Though I appreciate the freedom of traveling alone, I would rather share it with a friend. Stories become more exciting, challenges become easier to deal with, and it's so much more fun to tag team in a bar or club... but for any of you who can't remember the last thing you did all alone, spend some time in your own head in new surroundings. Go to the park you always drive by but never stop.  Eat at that sketchy looking restaurant, odds are the prices are good and the food is even better. It's amazing the things you find out about yourself when you're the only one to rely on.

...Cheers to all my friends who are kickin' it around the globe by themselves, from Thailand to London and from Germany to Vancouver, keep rocking it. 

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