Palm-Sized Storms and Precious Gems — By Jennifer Shipp
Asia Southeast Asia Trips

Palm-Sized Storms and Precious Gems — By Jennifer Shipp

Like colicky babies, we tend to be less fussy when we're moving from place to place than when we're sitting in one place waiting.
Like colicky babies, we tend to be less fussy when we’re moving from place to place than when we’re sitting in one place waiting.

In a few days, we’ll pack up and fly to Bangkok, Thailand for our first-ever look at Southeast Asia. With our Arabic classes finished, we’re trying to reset now and ready ourselves for a completely different adventure in a new time zone and a new climate.

I packed up the warm-weather clothes today so that I could resurrect them again easily when it’s time to go back to the states. I’m tired of wearing clothes that are either black, white, pink, or blue. Many weeks ago at home, Lydi and I worked together on our travel wardrobe to try to come up with the largest number of combinations and permutations of clothing options possible by selecting only items that would coordinate. It was a complicated algorithm because we also had to make sure that we could transition from climate to climate: winter, then early spring, then on to late summer and back to winter in 15 clothing items or less. Lydi and I look the same a lot which drives Lydian nuts every single day of our travel lives except plane-day when hers and my identical coats convert into wrap-around travel pillows (convenient, space-saving, and comfortable) and our identical travel pants easily carry essentials like hand sanitizer and our passports.

We have several plane days coming up in our near future and a complicated land maneuver involving trains, buses, and tuk tuks between Thailand and Cambodia. I haven’t counted exactly but I know that in addition to our land travel over the fourteen days when we’re in Southeast Asia, we’ll clock more than 50 hours of airport + airplane time across six countries and three continents from Egypt to Tokyo before arriving back home. This will be the first time we’ve ever flown all the way around the world from east to west. I’ve been rehearsing the sequence over and over in my head to make sure I haven’t missed anything. I’ve gotten the Cambodian eVisas that weren’t entirely necessary, but recommended since Cambodian tuk tuk drivers in Poipet will apparently scam unwary tourists who arrive visa-less. We have our Vietnamese visas already because American citizens have to apply for them beforehand. I have anti-malarial medications and mosquito repellent on stand-by within easy reach. I have my med-bag fully stocked with a little bit of anti-everything else (a Coptic pharmacist two blocks from our apartment in Cairo ordered me a stash of travel med supplies that’ll keep us healthy for the next 3 years). John has the details of our trip mapped out on TripIt and I have a handwritten version of the same in my calendar. We have two short flights to get to Hanoi, where we’ll officially depart for home on a record-breaking 24 hour flight that will stop for a layover in Tokyo and L.A. I’ve got our pajamas packed within easy access, and our winter clothes buried more deeply under things like the portable reverse osmosis system. Yes, I think we’re ready.

Now, it’s time to wait.

The next two and a half days before we leave seem like an eternity. And the days after we arrive in Southeast Asia have taken the curious shape of Things Unknown in my imagination, like tarot cards or tea leaves. There’s a little voice in my head that always wonders what will happen on this trip? The wondering creates an eerie stillness in my mind, like the way the air gets hot and still when dark storm clouds take shape on the horizon. The other voices in my head get tense and quiet as the wondering builds. I can ignore it for a while, but eventually, the sun gets blacked out and the tornados start spinning.

Then it’s time to go.

Last night I had a dream that I was setting up a hospital in a building without ceilings in preparation for a hurricane in a tropical country. I stacked blood pressure cuffs on a table next to a scale where an Asian woman was standing in a white nurse’s uniform. She held the hurricane in the palm of her hand and she stretched her arm out and opened her hand so I could look at it closely. It was an emerald, that had been cut thin and flat on the top and the bottom with a hole in the center, like something one might string on a necklace.

“We’ll be hit twice.” She told me. “Once before the eye and once after.”

In the dream, I kept telling myself that it would be wet and it would be cold, but that I’d be okay as long as I kept moving.

When we arrived in Tokyo, Japan later in the year, Typhoon Mindulle had just hit hours before. Hours after we departed from Tokyo, Typhoon Lionrock hit the country. But our first visit to Japan on our way home from Thailand an Cambodia was just a layover.

(UPDATE: At the end of this same year, we traveled to Japan from India. I was sick with viral fever on the way there. John was sick on the way home. Japan was hit by a typhoon hours before we arrived from Delhi. Another typhoon hit the country just hours after we left Tokyo for L.A.)

Today, the parts of me that like the comforts of home are irritable and snappy as I tuck quart-sized plastic bags filled with bottles no larger than 3 ounces into various nooks and carry-on crannies. How difficult will it be to travel from point A to point B in Cambodia? I can imagine the train to the walk-across-the-border scenario that ends with a shuttle bus and then a taxi to Siem Reap, Cambodia from Bangkok. But what about the humidity? What about another layer of jetlag? I hope we can avoid encounters with mosquitos and touts. I hope our vacation rentals will be clean and functional. I hope nothing happens.

I hope something happens.

I hope we can start moving toward the airport soon because nothing feels as scary once we start moving.

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