Five Things About Moving To A Different Country

It’s not a blog without a list post, after all. Anyway, I really do have five things to mention!

1. You can actually be really upset on moving to new country, and wonder if you made a mistake

You know, when I first found out that I was actually going to be coming to Bangkok, I was jumping up and down with joy. New adventures, lots of challenges… it was going to be great. I live for this kind of thing.

Cut to me crying as I put my luggage in my car that morning. Cut to me crying as I said bye to my boyfriend and my brother at the airport. Cut to me crying all the way through security. And so on and so on. Seriously though, the actual leaving of your home country is HARD. Cut to my drained self looking out at the scenery as the driver who met me at the airport took me to Cooper’s house and wondering, “Wait, why did I think this was a great idea again?” Which is SO strange, because what do I really have to be sad about? I’m sitting in this nice unconditioned car sent by my orchestra that I do not have to drive and having an existential crisis. (“What does it all meaaaaaaaaan?”) All of the first world problems. It’s embarrassing even to talk about all of this. Why am I blogging about this? Anyway, this wore off after about a week. Just be warned though, this could happen to you, especially if you’re leaving behind people you care about. 

2. You cling on like a five year-old to anyone who can help you

I arrived in Bangkok thinking that it wasn’t gonna be THAT rough of a transition. And then a week passed and I still barely could figure out how to get back to Cooper’s place from school. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I relied on Cooper and Namju for the first few weeks for apartment hunting, getting photocopies, grocery shopping, human contact, getting change for my 1000 baht bills, transportation… It’s astounding how many minute little tasks you have to relearn how to do. Also, when you make your first new friend from said country, you ask them about everythingggggg.

This gives me a lot of perspective on my experience as the host sister of a foreign exchange student back in high school. She had to ask me about things like how to open her locker (numerous times), about where to go to do this or that, about what our biology teacher was talking about… At the time I frequently found myself annoyed–sorry Sam!–but at least I was there with her and I would give a lot to have a host sister here who could, for instance, show me where the awesome street food is at. (Oh Ma Lin, how I miss you…)

3. Feeding yourself may be difficult

Speaking of street food, just food in general is difficult, especially as a vegetarian/occasional pescetarian. Although an entirely different food climate can be really fun, when it comes down to the day-to-day nourishment of your body, it can exhausting to navigate all of this food when you haven’t spent years fine-tuning what you like and what you don’t like as you have in your home country. The other day, I went to the doctor for some tests for my work permit, and they weighed me and I was 5 pounds under what I used to weigh when I was FOURTEEN. Then I ate three meals that afternoon and was okay. I just forget about feeding myself sometimes. But if you ever move to another country, you may encounter similar issues.

4. You will have an emotional breakdown.

Mine happened at about week three. I was playing first oboe and thus was in the hot seat, where I was having some adjustment issues. I was thinking way too much about my life, what it is I should be doing with my future, and how I’m supposed to make a meaningful life in the face of my inevitable, irreversible death. And it was my first week living in my new apartment where I was living by myself again. I was not having a good time. I’ll just not talk about me crying anymore and end this section by saying that everything was resolved and all was well. Just a crappy day compounded by the whole living-in-another-country thing. 

5. You will accept any social interaction you can get

If you asked me what my social life is like, I’d tell you this: I talk to my boyfriend a lot, I play video games with Cooper, I ask my Thai friend questions on Kik, there are a few people I regularly chat with during breaks at orchestra (my kindle buddy, the principal bassoonist, a scattering of the other expats and the Thai people who are willing to associate with us). Oh, and I talk to the taxi drivers. I tell them left and right and straight and stop. That’s a very important part of my day. 

My new adventure

Hi readers,

I never did get around to making a final post about my China trip. I didn’t tell you about my missed flight on Christmas Eve to Manila, about duets with Reynato, about drinks with new girlfriends on Christmas. And I never got to mention my horribly delayed flight to Thailand, my time spent with wonderful new friends, nor did I mention my last night at a rooftop bar in Bangkok. But let’s not dwell in the past, shall we?

I just arrived back in Thailand today after finishing my last semester at University of Arizona. I have the privilege of subbing with the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra through the rest of their season in September, with possibility of extending my contract if we both decide that we are a good fit. I also get to teach some lessons, chamber music, and possibly reedmaking at Mahidol University. I spent the last 25 days buying everything I will need to get started, gouging cane, finishing grad school, and spending time with friends and family. It’s been a little hectic.

To muse just a little, I actually thought for a while that I would be staying in Tucson and putting Oboist Unbound to rest for the time being. But the title for this blog is in some ways an acknowledgement of this innate part of myself that craves adventure, so it makes sense that when I got this offer I said yes without hesitation. I’m not saying that it wasn’t hard for me to leave. I was a crying mess going through security. (And yeah, maybe on the plane too, but that one’s on the Chinese film industry.) But I felt fate calling me here, so that’s that. Thailand it is.

In any case, I know I will love it in Salaya (the suburb that the university and orchestra are located in, about an hour out from Bangkok). I already have friends in Cooper (the first oboist in the orchestra), Namju, and their dog Kahti. I’ll be staying with them for a bit while I get on my feet, which I’m thankful for. I’m excited about the orchestra too– we’re playing some great rep! There are some really prominent english horn solos too (Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G and Dvorak’s 9th Symphony in one concert later in the season, for any oboists reading this to faint over.) And this college teaching gig is going to be phenomenal on my resume. I mean, I’m really glad that I’m going to be spending some time teaching anyway. But at 24, the resume needs attending to.

That’s all I have to write about for now. Tomorrow I’m watching large ensemble auditions, opening a bank account here, checking out an on-campus produce stand with Namju, and playing my first rehearsal in the evening. I got a break today, but tomorrow it’s time to work.

Quintet in Chinaland Day 5: Conquering Chongqing (or, how I got really, really lost in Chongqing)

Even as our bus came into the city limits, I could tell that Chongqing was going to be special. The main part or the city is located on a small peninsula where the Yangtze river and the Jialing river intersect, so the layout is like a miniature version of Manhattan, very dense with a lot to see within a small area. The weather was foggy but much more mild than the previous cities that we’ve been to, and the tree lined streets are reminiscent of Los Angeles. And one more city comparison: as we climbed up the peninsula, with all of the battles that might have taken place here in olden times, and with the distinct advantage that the hilly topography would give this city, I couldn’t help but think of the LOTR city of Minas Tirith.

Point being, this was one hell of a cool city.

IMG_3086.JPG Looking out of the bus window into Chongqing.

So the next day, I tied up my running shoes, pocketed my room card and my I’m-a-dumb-tourist-and-got-lost card, and set off for the eastern tip of the peninsula. It was a great run. The Jialing river was beautiful. People were going about their daily lives as I weaved through them, some of them off to work and some of them chatting at roadside food stands. A children’s hospital that I passed was staging a performance with children dancing and singing along with a recording. Parents stood by and watched. I was sucked into this world, made all the more rich and enticing by my lack of understanding.

(Funny cultural aside, so far I have not seen a single person running here. Aside from people avoiding cars or attempting to get to work on time, it doesn’t seem like something that is done, especially given that every time I go out people stare at me and occasionally laugh at my weather-inappropriate clothing. But anyway.)

Then I got lost.

Now, I usually pride myself on having an impeccable sense of direction. I can discern compass directions in most locations and can remember directions to a new friend’s house after the first visit or two. So when I say that I got lost… It’s more that I got bored after reaching my goal, set off of the northern end of the city, wound my way through the labyrinth of poor neighborhoods, and proceeded to (more or less) traverse the entire peninsula for the next two hours. I guess what I’m proposing is this: should I really call it getting lost when every detour I made brought me closer to seeing the city’s heart beating?

But yeah no, I was pretty damned lost.

So, I pulled out that nifty card that I mentioned earlier (actually I had holding it in my hand the entire run, gripping it between my whitened knuckles like the lifeline between me and a life not spent sweeping streets with twig brooms that it was), hailed a taxi, and the taxi lady promptly delivered me to my beloved hotel for a modest fee of 10 yuan– $1.62. Nobody in the quintet was worrying about me, and I was back in plenty of time to recover and prepare for our performance that night.

IMG_3085.JPG The aforementioned I’m-a-dumb-tourist-and-got-lost card. I’m not promising that this will be the only time I use it.

My quintet members think that I am crazy and reckless, I can tell. But I have been through a few travel pinches, and I know: there is a way, there is (for me) a safety net, there is someone willing to help you. And in the event that none of these things are there for me, I can always, always count on myself to get back up, brush myself off, laugh it off, and move on.

So what the heck did I pack for this trip?

This is no ordinary packing list, people. I had to pack for temperatures ranging from 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) in Inner Mongolia to 90 degrees in Thailand. I had to pack a floor length dress and heels for the 12-concert tour. And I had to pack an extra oboe as I am making a delivery to a friend in Bangkok. Luckily, this is more of a suitcase trip than a backpacking trip, so I had plenty of room to fit everything and a few luxuries.

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Clothes:
Peacoat
Thin down vest
Fleece
7 t-shirts
1 camisole
1 pair of corduroys
1 long skirt
1 miniskirt
2 pairs of leggings
1 set of running clothes (the shorts double as pajamas)
1 floor length dress
8 pairs of underwear
8 pairs of socks
1 bra
Bathing suit

Accessories:
Scarf
Hat
Gloves
Running shoes
Heels
Sandals
Goggles
Theft-proof backpack for my oboe
Theft-proof sling purse

Toiletries:
Toothbrush
Toothpaste
Shampoo, conditioner and body soap in 3 ounce containers
1 razor (my body hair trimming needs are few)
My essential make-up duo: liquid eyeliner and mascara
Deodorant
Bobby pins
Vaseline
Comb
Pads and tampons
Toilet paper (it’s BYOTP in this part of the world)

Medicine:
Pepto Bismol tablets (since bringing this, Matt has informed that Immodium is actually what I was supposed to bring for any food poisoning incidents. Live and learn.)
DayQuil and NyQuil
Inhaler
Liquid Bandage (a must-have for musicians)
Condoms and Plan B (not planning on putting them to use, but I think it’s important to highlight that you never know and that you really don’t want to wander a foreign country looking for contraceptives)

Electronics:
Tablet
Kindle
Video camera
iPhone
Headphones
Appropriate chargers
Plug adaptor

Music stuff:
Sheet music
Oboe x2
Baby food jar (for soaking reeds)
Reed tools
Tying tools
Reed lamp (yes, as you can see, I brought a lamp. Absolutely essential for reedmaking.)

Miscellaneous:
Luggage lock x2
U-lock (I’m feel extra paranoid about the second oboe)
Journal
Small notebook to write down Chinese phrases
Four packing cubes (for tops, bottoms, athletic clothes and socks/underwear)

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So that’s everything, packed into a small suitcase and backpack! I hope to make everything more compact in the future, but for this trip I’m okay with the amount of stuff I brought. Packing light is always a work in progress.

Quintet in Chinaland Day 2

Today, we left Taiyuan and took the train to Zhengzhou, where we will be performing our second concert tomorrow night. Me and the girls had a fun adventure in the train station this morning when we discovered a wine shop. There was some time before we had to board, so the girl at the shop had us try a number of different drinks while they marvelled at us American girls’ drinking prowess. (Natalie had misunderstood the girl and taken her drink as a shot, thereby creating a little bit of a stir. We are now joking that she has made history as the hardcore American girl, which, if you were to meet Natalie, is a fitting description.) One of the drinks she had us try was báijiǔ which I had read about on the internet and had been curious to try. The drink was 61% alcohol! But I believe we made our country proud in that moment… one [tiny] sip at a time. Whew.

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Natalie, me, and Kate (from left to right) “enjoying” a sample of báijiǔ.

After arriving in Zhengzhou, Ma Lin–our guide–took us into the city in search of food, shopping, and general adventure. Mostly food, though. With no hesitation, he took us through a row of stands and introduced us to the gritty wonder that is Chinese street food. As we sat and ate at a nearby table, Ma Lin would rush from stand to stand, dumping more food on the table just as we were finishing the last dish that he brought. It was a pretty funny sight, actually. We also explored a few dumpling shops and a good portion of the Muslim district, and the time we got back to the hotel, he had managed to feed both Matt and Mike (a bottomless pit and the most picky eater I have ever met, respectively).

A small side note: in China, we are consistently the rowdiest group of people around. Anywhere we go, we are talking loudly and laughing and making fun of each other, and it makes us quite the spectacle. You know, in addition to us being the only white people we’ve encountered since we left the airport. As such, we get a LOT of staring. I like to think that we are adding spice and vitality to the lives of those who encounter us in the middle of their daily grind.

China so far has been full of surprises, and it is fun seeing us transition from wanting to understand everything that is happening to just accepting some of the stranger elements of surviving in this country. A few stops into our train ride, we changed directions and everyone had to get up and turn EVERY row of chairs around, mostly without the assistance of the train staff. It was very…communal. Haha. You can imagine the chaos that ensued, but I suppose it is normal for the Chinese as it seems that there is a certain amount of “roughing it” that occurs when you live here. We aren’t always charmed by the differences. However, so far we are doing well. We’ll see how badly we want to push each other into Chinese traffic as the tour goes on, but I personally feel closer to the quintet than I ever have before.

(I am just setting myself up with that statement, aren’t I?)

On playing music in airports

A few years back I was staying in Philadelphia with a bassoonist friend of mine, when he mentioned that he likes to practice in the airport during layovers. My first reaction was, “wait, that’s allowed?” quickly followed by, “I NEED to do this!” He assured me that it was indeed okay, and that his experiences playing in terminals have been largely positive. After a few times trying this out myself, I have to say that I’m a convert for life!

So this last weekend, I flew to California to attend my brother’s wedding, and I thought this would be a great chance to play at the airport again. Here I am, playing the oboe:

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I played C.P.E. Bach and Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah. One guy actually put $10 in my oboe case for the Jeff Buckley, I’m guessing that he has a particular bond with that song. I was actually approached by a few airport employees that day, but instead of telling me to stop like I was afraid they would, they only told me to move a little bit to a better location. No one to date has told me to stop (at least not to my face!), which I like to think is because of a few self-imposed guidelines I follow when playing at an airport.

I think I have always been intrigued by the idea of playing in an airport, partially as a way to combat the difficulties of practicing on travel days, but mostly as a way to reach people with my music who I wouldn’t normally reach otherwise. Now, it might be troublesome if everyone began to play music at the airport and it became a nuisance, but by and large we could use a few more musicians spicing up the airport experience.

On that note, the quintet does have a long layover in SFO before we get to China…

All tickets have been bought!

Hi readers,

This is an appropriate time for my first post, as I have finally bought all of my plane/train tickets for the Fred Fox Graduate Wind Quintet tour in China and for my travels after! It’s a pretty exciting time for the quintet as we wrap up classes, perform recitals, and of course prepare our tour music. And of course, we still have our concert at the end of this month before we leave. So much to do! (And so many reeds to make…)

As for my post-China plans, I spent a little more on my travels than I originally intended. I assure you there is a method to my madness, but we won’t go into that for now. What is important is that you see my final travel itinerary:

Tucson-China-Manila-Bangkok-Los Angeles

I’ve been to the Philippines before, but never by myself. On this visit, I’ll be spending Christmas with my oboe friend there and his wife. Check out this picture of him and I from my last visit in 2012 when we first met:

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Yes, I had orange hair. Yes, I don’t know what I was thinking. (In my defense, I did not dye my hair with the intention of it being orange.)

In any case, that is my friend Reynato. I made friends with him over facebook by messaging him and saying that I was on my way to visit Manila and could we meet up and nerd out about oboe for a few days? It was probably one of the highlights of my trip spending time with him and playing duets! So this is the kind of stuff I get into when I travel, talking to strangers and making friends everywhere I go. It adds so much to a trip.

I hope my travels this winter go similarly well. This is going to be my first international solo trip (I mean after the first three weeks of touring are over, which should be fun– I’m just a solo wanderer by heart), so I hope to bring back many more wonderful stories. As for my next post, hopefully I will talk a little more about concerns about this trip as an oboist. Take care!

I play the oboe and travel. Here I chronicle my attempts to reconcile the two.