The decision came at the end of the road. In Hanoi, I had hit the wall that is the Chinese border and there was no further direction to continue on that I had not already been. Passing the heat-laden middays away in my air-conditioned room, I thought of where I had been and where I’d go to next. Three years in Asia. Seven countries. Sure, I hadn’t seen everything I wanted to, but I’d certainly come close.
The question was what to do next?
There were four onward options I was bouncing between. The first, and most logical, was to fly to Jakarta and continue on in some way or another in the archipelagoes to the south. Another was Nepal and northern India, a place I knew only in the fleeting tales of travellers I’d met coming and going in South East Asia. Then there was China, that giant terra incognita to the north of which I knew even less about than India.
The last option was to return home to Bangkok. It’s not something I was leaning toward, but it was always there, always a safety net and only a cheap flight away. Friends, familiarity, and an open invitation to return to my previous job there all waited for me should I choose to go back. It was nice to have that option as a fallback plan.
And of course, after a year of unplanned and unbound travel, money was becoming a factor to think about. A good number of those afternoons in my Hanoi room were spent looking at postings of jobs ranging from places as close as Vietnam and Indonesia to China and as far as Poland and Egypt.
But China was right there. Sure I couldn’t cross the border as simply as if I were to just go back to Laos, but it was a place unknown to me and bigger than the region I’d been exploring for the last 3 years. With the encouragement of my friend Rick (who I met in Bangkok and was now living in Beijing) and his offer to let me stay with him, I began the mind-numbing process of applying for a Chinese tourist visa at the Hanoi embassy.
That is a post for another time.
The day after I submitted the application for the Chinese visa, I was offered and accepted a job in Chongqing, China. With the tourist visa already in my passport now, and needing to get a work visa, I was presented with another 3 options: continue on to Beijing with the tourist visa and begin the process there, go to Bangkok and wait out the process there, or return home to the United States and visit my family while I completed the process.
I had not been back to the United States in 2 years, and that were under far less than desirable circumstances. I figured it would be a surprise to everyone if I showed up suddenly and unexpectedly. So a last-minute (72-hour . . . never ever doing that again) flight booked and I was saying goodbye to my stint in one region of the world.
Asia, three years and seven countries down. Many, many more to go.