August 14, 2016

The Electric Current of Living in Asia

 Where Eating Questionable Lettuce can Lead to Remarkable Discoveries

When I was back in the US last month, one of the most glorious feelings I had was an undercurrent sense of peace because I just understood how things work. All signs and labels were in my language, my mom's cupboards were organized as I knew them at 8-years old (except for the silverware drawer), and Cafe Solstice still had (re: HAS) my favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookies on the menu. It all just made sense.

It took me all of four days back in Asia for that feeling to completely dissipate and be replaced with its polar opposite. The ice-bucket-to-your-head jolt of constant little surprises wrapped up in packages of tiny, ancient ladies at the fruit stand or the middle-aged chain smoker with a beer belly and a rolled up tank top who gives ZERO shits about blocking the sidewalk during rush hour when it's 100 degrees. Every. Single. Weekday.

In my non-scientific opinion, I'm convinced that this current, this electricity, that I feel when I'm out of my element is a direct cousin to adrenaline. It's what drives people to travel and throw themselves into unfamiliar things, all for the buzz and rush of that elevated thought process, giving off enough endorphin's  to carry you through the stories you tell when you go home.

I have been hooked on that high since I was like 16.

Blame it on old[er] age, cynicism, or both... but last month when I was back home in the US, got hypnotized by that security, the quietness of my brain, the symphony of just  "getting it." It was freeing and fun and made even the simplest of things, like driving my dad's F-150, as refreshing as a cool glass of water.

Alas, I'm back and the electric current is strong once again.

Five days after landing in HK from the US, I jetted off again to Da Nang, Vietnam, to support some friends running a marathon in the steam-basket of SE Asia's August. It was a quick trip and my girlfriends and I had amazing accommodations, so we were feeling fancy and planned to treat ourselves to a cocktail at the "the most beautiful resort on the planet," according to someone who ought to know such things.

Carved into cliffs on what felt like a private peninsula, the resort was a 30-minute drive from where we were staying. After what felt like ages of meandering through the jungle on a curvy, deserted road, we arrived. 

The security guards promptly turned us away. Their English was poor and my friends and I could tell they were giving us some porous story about the restaurant being full. Never ones to take no for an answer, we got out of the taxi and looked at the stars while we plotted a way in. Instead of being wooed by our sweet talk, the blushing and nervous security guards shut a gate on us and we were sent back in the taxi. Clearly Taylor Swift and her new main squeeze were staying there, otherwise we would've been let in.

Just kidding. I have no idea if Taylor or one of her squad ladies were there, but thinking about it makes me feel better about being turned away.

Disgruntled and tired of being in a car, my friend persuaded us to pull over once we finally got into the city and eat in one of Da Nang's seafood halls.The restaurants are essentially huge pole barns without walls, set up side by side for more or less a mile. 

The menu & seafood bins
Every single restaurant was brimming with Vietnamese families perched on plastic stools and folding chairs. The front part of the building  had mopeds and motorcycles crammed and tangled into any spare spot. The seafood halls are the perfect opposite of the fancy resort's photos I saw on Trip Advisor, but wasn't allowed to see in real life.

Through one lens, I felt the buzz and high of the absurdity and vibrancy of the evening's events. But on the other hand, I was also feeling that heavy weight of just wanting a good, expected and understandable meal.

I swear the waiter could sense my unease and he directed me away from our table to look at a menu. We shimmied through tightly packed long rows of metal and plastic tables, dodged crab legs and beer cans on the floor and  finally made it to giant blue tubs of living sea creatures and a big  sign on the wall with a list of fish.

"For goodness' sake, waiter, I grew up on the prairie and in adult life, picked out shellfish only when offered to me on a happy hour menu with full descriptions of flavor, origin, etc. How the hell am I supposed to a) pick things out and b) explain to you how I want to eat them." I
thought.

My friend thankfully swooped in and soon we were wheelin' and dealin' ourselves quite a meal. 

The electric current was back.

The best scallops on Earth
The food was amazing. We had grilled scallops and prawns and a stingray served with rice paper wraps and fresh herbs and lettuce. We washed it all down with Tiger beers, served warm in plastic cups with chunks of ice that were from a five-gallon bucket. 

Ice, greens, and shellfish are three of the most notorious caveat emptor foods for the traveler not keen on diarrhea. We ate and drank anyway.

My friends and I broke the rules and were absolutely no worse for the wear the next morning. I'm grateful for my Iron Stomach (not invincible, but certainly sturdy). 

The evening ended up giving me enough of a high to enthusiastically relay the story to friends and one week on I still find it amusing enough to write about on here.

Everyday there is some strange little something that reminds me that electric current is inside of me. But now I find myself seeking the opposite feeling: the calming, spacious sense of understanding. I haven't quite found it yet in Hong Kong, but day by day, I'm beginning to see more glimpses.  


The aftermath

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