The 9-Month Journey

It was May 2018.  With our lease up in June and our flight out approaching the 22nd of May, we spent most of our nights at my childhood home, slowly moving out of our place in Oak Park and moving into the only home I knew.  But also the home that didn’t feel like home ever since my father’s sudden passing back in mid-July of 2017.  We moved into my grandparent’s old bedroom, moved things around, organized, and half-assedly packed our life in boxes. Packed up a box of winter gear that I potentially may need if I end up somewhere cold and left it in my mom’s overflowing with clothes exercise room. Sold my car my dad gifted to me many years ago. Had a rather large bon voyage party, expecting to be gone for 1 year, internally hoping I’d be gone for 2.  Hopped on a plane to Hawaii to spend some quality time with the mom-in-law and sister-in-law at their new home before our year abroad with a total of 1 large luggage, 2 medium sized luggages, 2 carry on luggages, and 2 backpacks.

Here we go. The 9-month journey in a nutshell.

Point A to Point B

We spent a total of four days in Hawaii.  It flew by within a blink of an eye.  But little did we know it was the calm before the storm. The day we left Hawaii was the longest day we’ve had out of the ENTIRE trip – I think . . . Departing from Kahului and arriving at Honolulu to catch those international flights was only the beginning.  Quick, easy, and painless.  And even though our second flight landed in Nagoya and we were just passing through on our way to Hokkaido, we were not even allowed to make the connection without first going through customs, grabbing our bags, doing the whole re-checking in and weighing process to catch our next flight to Chitose.  Luckily, the layover was a few hours, so we not only killed a bunch of time, but we made it with time to spare before boarding. And when we finally made it to Chitose, Kevin said we have to ride a train to Sapporo.  So there we were.  It was hours past everything being open and here were 2 sleep deprived foreigners trying to make their way onto a train with the amount of luggages they had and no cart. Riding that escalator down to the train platform was a challenge and I highly don’t recommend doing so.  It was like a domino effect.  One luggage tipped over, then another, and so on, and even there we were tripping over our own luggages frantically trying to carry and move everything before the rush of tired Japanese men in suits filed through on the way down the moving stairs! It was a complete mess!  Don’t even ask me why we didn’t just use the elevator, as I throw my hands up in the air in defense mode, I just followed my frustrated husband. Talk to him. Not to mention getting on the train when the doors were about to close. My husband did most of the grunt work, thank you, but we made it onto the train and had to stand for nearly an hour because there were no more seats.  Once we arrived our destination, we stayed at a hostel, Momma Yoko thankfully booked for us.  The problem was finding it.  Two times walking aimlessly around the area, and a taxi ride with a small elderly driver who was surprisingly strong AND able to fit all our suitcases in a tiny taxi, we found the right place.  The next morning, I learned, we weren’t even there yet. Now this part is foggy, it’s been a year, I really don’t remember now – either we rode one more train or Kevin’s uncle came to pick us up.  Either way, we got picked up and headed for his and his daughter’s house.

Hokkaido, Japan

We ended up staying at Kevin’s cousin’s house with their two kids Yuya and Roya.  And meeting the whole family upon arrival was a little overwhelming.  Especially the fact that I didn’t speak a word of Japanese and them little to none in English. Really wishing I had taken a few courses of conversational Japanese before my arrival.  But we made it through by using a whole lot of hand gestures and facial expressions.  The whole time I was like, Kevin, don’t leave me. Translate. Translate. But even with the language barrier, it wasn’t so hard to get along with the kids.  Kids are kids and they were the absolute cutest little munchkins I had the pleasure of playing with. The first night we arrived was a celebration.  We had a grill out, they had sparklers, and fireworks, and just a butt load of fun and lots of laughs.  And lots of quiet me just observing and watching everything happen. But unfortunately, that was the only time we all were together, since the kids had school, and the girls had gymnastics.

Due to the days spent traveling to Hokkaido, we lost a day of family time with the Uncle and Aunt and their family.  So we spent most of our time chilling out at home and eating with the family.  On our final night we ate at a sushi restaurant the family always goes to.  The sushi chef apparently is super traditional.  He was this old guy.  I don’t know about you, but I find old people – grandmas and grandpas SO adorable, even if they are grumpy old men. But his sushi was AMAZING! Full on foodgasm if you ask me. He was really cool too. I impressed the fam by eating a lot of sushi rolls. OMG and the TAMAGO – the egg thing? SO GOOD.  By far my FAVORITE place to get tamago is there, everywhere else is simply a disappointment. And the chef gave me a whole sheet of it on the way out. I was dying.

The next day they dropped us off at a JR station to take us to the airport, where we yet again rode a plane to Kanazawa.  On the upside, during check in, we were able to mail two of our luggages to Kevin’s brother in Tokyo, so we wouldn’t have to deal with all of it during the back and forth traveling we were doing.

Kanazawa, Japan

We met his Auntie, whom they all call “Mummy” and her husband.  Really kind folks.  They picked us up from the airport and took us to another hostel that Momma Yoko was generous to gift us claiming it was our wedding gift.  And it was simply a beautiful hotel in the middle of Kanazawa.  Kanazawa is such a quaint little town that reminded me so much of Iowa City.  We both really enjoyed our stay there.

Ate izakaya on the first night with Mummy. Played catch up on sleep the next day and basically rested like the homebodies we are. Explored a castle – forgot which one – with Mummy.  Visited the Higashiyama Higashi Chaya District with Kevin every so often pondering if we should go to one of those shops that dress you up in traditional clothing and video tape you as you wander about, but was like NAH at the same time, so we had lunch there, dessert obviously, and left to explore where the samurai’s used to live. Super chill day that ended with eating dinner my Mummy and her husband at a sushi restaurant on our final night there.

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Tokyo, Japan

From Kanazawa, we took the JR line to Tokyo and waited for the brother in law and his girlfriend to come find us.  Which was one of the most difficult things to do because 1. Tokyo station was ginormous, 2. We didn’t know which exit he was waiting for us at, 3. He was nowhere to be found, 4. We went hunting for a payphone, which apparently is basically non-existent nowadays, then we ended up staying put and his girlfriend spotted Kevin and boom we got connected. Made it to her apartment, which was wonderful and we were so utterly grateful for having a place to stay without spending a dime.  Thank you. Thank you. They deserve a double thank you. Kevin and his brother and girlfriend left for lunch.  I just needed some alone time to recoup.  Anybody who is an introvert knows this feeling too well. Sometimes you just need some time to yourself to remember who you are as an individual. And my gosh, was I drained. The first few days in Tokyo was super low-key, did nothing but rest, try to eat really clean and exercise – since I didn’t do much of that and I felt like I was gaining and model placement began soon-ish.

The highlights of our stay in Tokyo were going to Nara and getting attacked by all the deer, and getting bit through my jeans, which thankfully didn’t end with me in the hospital, eating a lot of food with the brother in law and his girlfriend, meeting up with my Japanese friends who I’ve met during my study abroad trip in China back in 2011 – and last time I saw them was in 2014.  We spoke in broken Mandarin (*ahem* everyone minus Kevin), broken Japanese (*ahem* Kevin), and broken English (*Everyone minus  Kevin and me).  It’s crazy that no matter how much time passes, we can still come together and reminisce on old times and still be friends. Sometimes I feel friendless, but then I remember I have friends, we’re just rarely in the same time zones.

I realize my Japan trip explanation is quite long, but I don’t see another way to shorten it.  Everything seems so important.  I’ll try to shorten the rest as best as I can.  We also realize how short and fast paced everything was up to the point of our arrival in Bangkok.  Because we were absolutely exhausted by the time we settled into Bangkok for those three months.  I mean, was it a wonderful time? YES.  Was it ideal?  No. It was way too much moving around in such a short amount of time for each location.  Would we do it again?  Probably not, but definitely will travel to meet our relatives again.  Somewhere in the distant future.

Bangkok, Thailand

We arrived Bangkok on the 10th of June and I was called in to take digis the very next day and straight into a casting.  We stayed at a hostel and knew immediately within staying there one night, we had to get out of there as fast as possible, so we began apartment hunting straight away.  Found one for a reasonable cost and signed a day later. In all honestly the room was a bit scandalous.  It looked like one of those sexy themed one night hotel rooms, with a bright red blanket, also in some random horror film. But we took it and we enjoyed a place to stay that wasn’t overcrowded and extremely loud with rowdy foreigners who had little to no respect for others. It was a whole lot of what am I doing with my life for Kevin, because finding a job was the most difficult task for him.  He didn’t end up finding one.  Bangkok rules and regulations were so strict that it was almost better if he just traveled.  We came into this experience with zero research under our belt and it was bad, but it was so good and an eye opening experience for the both of us.  The first week he was like, I can’t believe you lived here for so long.  Mind you, he’s never really traveled anywhere, but Japan and Japan is a lot nicer than Thailand.  I mean streets wise and dirt and garbage and not to mention the smell. Bangkok is like New York when it comes to smell.  Like when you’re walking down the street, oh there’s the smell of garbage or yep, sewage smell—yum.

It was not until he formed friendships from some of my friends at agency in Bangkok and during my last trip here.  Which ended up to be a good thing.  Because sometimes I needed my alone time, and he going off with a friend for a drink was just what I needed to re-energize.

Bangkok was wonderful as always.  Work was hit or miss, I worked A LOT in July, to the point of exhaustion, then work was slim again. Booked my first lead role for a TVC, which I will talk about at a later date.  And met a lot of new and interesting people. Bangkok will always have a special place in my heart.  Love the city so much and love the people in it.  My model friends may come and go from that place, but the memories are always there.

Side Note: Remember that box of winter gear I set aside for safe keeping?  Well, I discovered during our time in Bangkok that my mom accidentally donated it to Goodwill.  I was so distraught.  If you’re a model as well, you would understand the feeling.  It was the most expensive box of things I use of modeling during winter time and I’ve accumulated a good winter model gear throughout the years and it was all gone! In my mom’s defense though, she was interested in selling the house and downsizing, so it was partly my fault for not labeling the box correctly. I have yet to start doing so, but now I’m starting from scratch.

Hong Kong

Okay, so I tried my hardest to not go to HK because it’s known to be one of the most expensive places to be and have a model placement. But I didn’t get any biters from other markets, and a Hong Kong agency was ready to represent me.

I wrote about Hong Kong briefly, here

As it states in my previous post about HK (found in the link above), Kevin and I “separated” from each other.  Someone once told me they thought that we actually separated-separated and I kept re-reading it over and over again and I don’t think it hints that at all, so PLEASE if you read this and read that, let me know if you think that it meant we were on the verge of leaving each other?  Because we weren’t at all.  The reason was because the market was a huge risk and we didn’t want to spend money on rent for a place that isn’t going to guarantee me money.

AND I AM SO GLAD WE WENT WITH THIS ROUTE.  I mean, did I miss my husband? OF COURSE.  Did I want to be away from him for 3 months? Hell no!

I didn’t earn a dime.  I worked here and there, yet I was in so much debt by the time my contract was up and I was leaving, so I am extremely grateful I stayed in that model apartment because they ate my debt. They ate it.  So I basically, got a free ride to Hong Kong.  You know what the most insane part of this whole thing is though?  My mother agency back in Chicago earned something from that trip, but not me.

A few highlights from this trip: Surviving my very first natural disaster the first weekend I arrived – a typhoon of a level 8? I think. I remember the building swaying back and forth and my housemate and I were like ooooo scary. I’m alive though! Meeting the most amazing people and having the best roommates ever.   I’m not gonna lie.  Hong Kong was pretty stressful for me.  I was often waiting for the other shoe to drop and have my HK agency send me home, but they didn’t and I’m glad.  But unfortunately led me on a dark path while I was in HK.  But after I left Hong Kong, I began to see it with a clear mind.  I enjoyed it.  There were plenty of times where everything was nice and wonderful.  The experience turned good.  I wanted to leave most of the time, but I was grateful for the opportunity.

I would go back.  Probably not for modeling, or maybe yes, but definitely would go back for the friendships I made along the way.

Bali, Indonesia

FINALLY, the moment I’ve been waiting for.  I landed in Bali super late and a day after Kevin’s arrival.  I ABSOLUTELY ADORE BALI!  THIS IS MY ULTIMATE FAVORITE LOCATION! We spent a month there and I wish we had done more.  We spent the majority of our days in the country side of Ubud, just an hour walk to Ubud center. It was SO wonderful!  Magical.  Even more magical than Hawaii. I think I could talk your ear off of Bali.  From the people, to the culture, to their customs and traditions, to the scenery, to Bali itself, to the food, to everything, I loved it.  LOVED IT!  Could see myself retiring there and just living life.  On the US dime, everything is so cheap, and all the really fancy restaurants are reasonably priced –  so GOOD.  You can be SO healthy there too.  I always get upset about the fact that healthy food in the States is so expensive, but in Bali – it’s not an issue. Especially, in Canggu – eating healthy and clean, or being a vegan or gluten free is not a problem. One thing though that I HATED . . . the dogs that we lived nearby, not stray dogs, I mean they’re still pretty wild, but they have owners. And they are aggressive, like so aggressive you feared for your life aggressive. I never want to abuse an animal, but being surrounded by so many aggressive dogs made me want to put those dogs down – most of the aggressive dogs were found in our homestay’s village.  You know, we LOVED our homestay family.  Such a nice family who loved us too.  We helped them make their plates for the offerings they made and learning about their ritual was fascinating.  Walking into town through the rice patty fields and watching the ducks work and all the workers in the field with their beautiful smiles on their faces.  They could be doing the shittiest job in the world, but they looked so happy and so peaceful doing it. The Vibe. I absolutely adored being there.  It was like my soul was reconnecting with myself all over again.  It was like falling in love for the first time.

AND HEY – Fun Fact: I met up with a fellow Chicagoan model friend of mine in Canggu.  She moved there for work – not modeling – other work and they paid for her stay and everything and seeing her in her element was inspiring.

Oh speaking of inspiration, I wrote a TON in Bali.  Went to coffee shops and enjoyed my company with myself and my husband was very relaxing.  We did some touristy stuff too, which was fun and met a really nice German couple from Australia.

I think Bali may deserve its’ own post someday, because there’s A LOT to say about Bali. Highlights were basically what I mentioned above, plus the food!

Side Note: This is the month, we found out my mom moved out of my childhood home, so renovations can be taken place and she moved into a new home for a 55 and over community.  Finding out that I will never see the house as it was before I left again was a little heartbreaking.  And especially the fact that my sister packed all our stuff that was in our room into boxes.  So I felt a bit overwhelmed of the uncertainty of our life in boxes.

Manila, Philippines

I was sick the entire month we were in the Philippines. SIIIIICK.  Like the flu. So from Bali to Manila, we flew red eye, which means flying overnight, we arrived around 3AM, maybe 4AM, got our stuff, went to find a sim card stand, got connected, found my uncle (my mom’s cousin) and his kids. He was like, let’s get breakfast and Kevin and I looked at each other and said Okay in the most non-enthusiastic voice possible.  Walking around aimlessly trying to find something to eat at the airport while running late for my Airbnb check in. After checking in, Kevin slept the whole day until dinner.  I should have slept, but from all the shows I started watching on Netflix in Hong Kong, most of those shows were not airing in Bali and they did in the Philippines, so I stayed awake and binged. That’s where I went wrong.  First sign was a headache the next day, and the day after was a full blown fever and flu.  I got better after a week of rest.  We ate out and was fully excited about eating Filipino food and then it got to us, we took a bite, and it was the most horrific experience with food I’ve ever had with Filipino food.  Then I got all excited because my mom was coming the next day and I knew . . . I knew food was gonna be good with mom around. And of course, it was. But when she came, a nasty cough started.  Then, Mom was like, Okay we’re going to Bolinao tomorrow, so make sure you wake up early and all that jazz and so we went, and the car ride with several stops along the way turned out to be a 7-8 hour car ride with traffic of the Philippines. That’s what life was like in the Philippines: eating good food with my mom, eating okay food on our own, traffic, and being sick.

Bolinao was fun though.  My cousins Jay or John were there and it was awesome, because they are hilarious, especially Jay with his FB live streaming where he had 0 viewers. (Shaking my head . .. hilarious) We stayed at a nice villa, got $5 USD full body massages, went to the beach, went to a cave and swam, and then my sickness got ten times worse even after the 10 hour car ride back, okay that was an exaggeration, more like 9 hours.  The next day was the Aldana Family Reunion, where I saw another fellow face, my cousin, also my bridesmaid, from back in Chicago, was there with her mom. I haven’t seen her since that day either.  I was sick still and was getting worse by the minute.  I didn’t partake in ANY of the activities they were doing, felt slightly bad about it, so I offered up Kevin in my place.

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Went to the hospital the next day, because I couldn’t make it to another family party I was supposed to go to.  Felt really bad about that too, but there was nothing I could do, I needed rest and my mom needed me on her schedule.  I told the doctor this.

I know what’s wrong with me. I need rest and water. But I’ve been traveling in a car where everyone was like, “Drink water because you’re sick, but don’t drink too much water, otherwise you’ll have to pee.”<Insert whatever face emoji with the 3 straight lines inside a yellow dot face> She laughed and gave me antibiotics and told my mom what’s up because apparently adult me wasn’t cutting it for her.

So yeah, that was my trip to the Philippines.  Was sick. Was on my mom’s schedule. Met up with my Australian friend who was my roommate in Hong Kong and ate lots of junk.

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Which was the end of my trip and international career.  Because with eating a lot of bad food and not enough nutrients and not exercising a lot, my measurements were whack and I wasn’t in the right mindset for another placement.

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So we went home.  I was kind drained from all that traveling and during those 9 months away from home, I realized who I was and what I wanted to do.

So here I am.

Chicago, IL, USA

Back again and ready to take on what’s next.  Will have another update post later on with what I’ve been up to since I’ve been back.

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