South Korea surprised me. Seoul, a bustling metropolis, is a dynamic modern city with efficient public transportation, pristine outdoor pedestrian areas, and people dressed to the nines. I recalculated its seemingly immaculate image as older ladies by the side of the road harassed me to buy their gimbap (Korean sushi) and I watched people jostling each other as they rummaged through large bins of 1000KRW (1USD) clothing. I squeezed through “noodle alley,” an indoor cafeteria with wall to wall bar stools in front of female vendors with their towering bowls of banchan (Korean side dishes) and noodles, crumpled napkins covered the floor.
I was in the ancient land of pharaohs and mummies for nearly two weeks before venturing north to Cairo. Coming from India where vegetarian food is bountiful, spicy, and vibrant, I knew that eating in Egypt would require an adjustment period. What I didn’t expect was how much of a gamble the tastiness of a meal would prove. I’d tried koshari from a popular spot in Luxor, a wonderful mix of large and small noodles, brown lentils, an oily tomato sauce, crispy fried onions, and a thin vinegary hot sauce. A few days later in Aswan, the same dish was lackluster at best; undercooked noodles, mushy lentils, and minimal seasoning. Same thing with fuul (fava bean strew) and tameya (fava bean fritters, Egyptian falafel). The slow cooked beans could be creamy and delicious, with fritters crispy and hot. But more often than not the fuul was bland and the tameya was dry.
I landed in Singapore to stifling heat and humidity and coincidentally, a hostel bunkmate from my hometown. There’s nothing like making a friend on the other side of the world who shares your accent and area code. As Roxanne and I journeyed North to Malaysia, she told me about her plans to head to the Perenthian Islands for inexpensive PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certifications. My prior experience diving was in Hurgada, Egypt, towards the start of my seven month voyage. I shouldn’t have gone as I was fighting an oncoming cold, but my couch surfing host had organized the excursion and I didn’t want him to think me uncool. Inevitably, the high-pressured chilly water kicked my sickness into high gear, and I was only able to complete one dive before spending the rest of the boat ride throwing up and sleeping. I spent the following two weeks wickedly ill, needing three doses of antibiotic butt injections to shake the infection. Now three months later I was ready to redeem myself and venture under the sea anew.
I spent three wonderfully intense weeks in Vietnam this summer. Big cities were an endless whirlwind of motorbikes, street food, and humidity. I didn’t expect to be so blown away by the beauty in the North, from the overcrowded boat tour through limestone pillars in the Cat Ba Archipelago, to the serene beauty of the Ha Giang Loop, a three day scooter ride on vividly green, winding mountain roads through farm land… Vietnam took my breath away.