After 34 hours of travel, there is nothing sweeter than a hot shower and a warm bed (unless your bags are lost, then finding your bags is the sweetest thing). My trip from Guangzhou to Santo Domingo was long, but everything went smoothly. As I’m superstitious, I won’t jinx the return trip by raving too much about how well it went. That said, I did get the holy grail of travel twice- on two of my three flights I had no one sitting next to me. I guess I should think bigger. A friend of mine recently flew first class from the US to Hong Kong on Emirates, which involved his own private suite complete with shower. I guess that is the pinnacle of air travel I should aim for!Plane travel generally makes me philosophical. When I boarded in China, I couldn’t help wondering who I’d see 24 hours later on the final leg of my trip and where they currently were in the world. When I take public transit I often wonder what caused everyone to be there at that moment and marvel that it is highly unlikely that that exact group will ever be together again. This last reflection is usually coupled with thoughts on what would happen in an emergency and if we’d all become intimate friends later featured in a best-selling book on our shared ordeal.Travel makes me think about coincidences. A few years ago, I was flying out of Newark Airport after my first trip to New York City. I walked into a random bathroom and came face to face with my boss from a past job at UC San Diego who was flying home from Ireland. I suppose in the giant cosmos of the universe that was a small act of reasonable probability, but it felt big to me. We were so stunned we just had a normal conversation with small talk about travel and life and then parted ways.These are just some of myriad things I ponder to amuse myself on long flights. Other amusements generally include a good book (this time The Devil in the White City), a Marvel superhero movie (Dr. Strange), and a Snickers.
I’ve now been in Santo Domingo for 1.5 weeks and have thoroughly enjoyed the sunny weather, being near the ocean, eating delicious food, and bumming around the hotel. Santo Domingo is a bit harder to get around by myself compared to Guangzhou, because there’s limited public transit here, and it’s not all that safe or pleasant to go wandering around by myself. A tall and perennially lost and confused white woman sticks out here just as much as in China, but here I’m more of a target for petty crime compared to Guangzhou where I’m a target for photos. Uber is doing really well here though, so I’ve been able to get around ok.
During the day I work from the hotel (reminding me again of how much I love my freelance job!), and then Amaury and I explore in the evenings. Our main weekday outings have involved exploring tasty restaurants along the coast, malls, and going to the movie theater. We hadn’t been to a movie theater in 8 months and thoroughly enjoyed seeing Split in English. I also loved buying new jeans- the first pair I tried on here fit!
Amaury returning to his roots
This past weekend was deliciously full of relaxation and sight-seeing. Our friend M drove us to the beach in Juan Dolio where we lolled on beach chairs, drank jugo de chinola (passion fruit juice), and ate whole grilled fish.
We then went to a party with Amaury’s work colleagues in the evening on the rooftop of a nearby apartment building. Everyone has been so kind and welcoming, and it’s fun to compare ex-pat experiences. That said, I really miss my Guangzhou community. Being new again, for however short a time, shows me how settled I am back in my new home.
On Sunday, we spent the morning doing some focused work on future plans and our professional goals. Hard to believe that we’re already considering where we might head after China. It’s completely up in the air at this point, but it’s fun to consider options and picture ourselves in different places. Our international lifestyle requires constant planning coupled with flexibility- a bit of a paradox- situations and options can change with little warning, so we’re constantly reconfiguring our 1 year, 3, 5, and 10 year plans. Of course, we’re both planners, so we usually enjoy the challenge.
After being so productive, we spent Sunday afternoon-evening in the Malecon (area along the coast) and then in the Zona Colonial (old colonial zone with Spanish-style buildings and many historical sites). We ate lunch on the outside deck of Adrian Tropical, a Dominican restaurant with incredible views of the ocean. I had one of my favorite Dominican dishes- mofongo- which is mashed green plantains typically with meat or seafood inside. Amaury had goat stew, and of course, we both had fresh fruit smoothies. I like the food in Guangzhou, the variety of Chinese food options there can’t be beaten and there are many Western and non-Chinese options, but I so miss having fresh food without struggle. The best thing I’ve eaten here so far was a huge, fresh avocado.
I apologize that you can’t eat that through the screen
We were excited to find out that Carnaval was still going on that Sunday, and we caught a lot of the parade going past the restaurant. The costumes were so intricate and some a bit scary- like a group of devils with long horns and whips that they cracked loudly and frequently against the ground.
In front of the Carnaval parade
More Carnaval festivities
Walking along the parade, we made our way to the Zona Colonial where we enjoyed a cool drink in one of the main squares and watched the street performers including a mariachi band and a mime/clown. The mime made the mistake of making fun of a group of children and then ended up entertaining them for close to an hour, playing hide and seek and trying to get them to sit down in one area so he could set his hat down for money from their parents who thoroughly enjoyed the impromptu child-care.As the sun started to go down, we set out to find some live music our friend had told us about. We found a large band playing salsa and merengue in front of the Ruins of San Francisco monastery. We joined the large crowd for several songs, tapping our feet and people watching.
Then we walked down the hill to have tapas at a restaurant we remembered from the last time we were here two years ago. So much has changed for us since then, but the setting felt exactly the same.I don’t mind that my weekdays here are generally quiet, because it’s nice to have a break and time to catch up on work and wedding planning. I sleep in, enjoy the free hotel breakfast, and then head to the room or poolside to work on things. Sometimes I head out to go shopping, but otherwise, I just relax into some quiet time. My current projects are to figure out the seating plan for our upcoming wedding and design the programs- pretty fun so far actually. Hard to believe we’re less than two months out now! I really can’t wait to see everyone, especially my family.
It’s also been nice to gain perspective on my life in Guangzhou. For international women’s day, a Guangzhou-based friend wrote how she’s thankful for how safe Guangzhou is for women. I really love that about the city. I can go basically anywhere by myself and be completely safe. I recognize that part of that safety is rooted in a violent history, more rigid political system, and always present surveillance, but on a day to day basis it really improves my quality of life.
Here, Santo Domingo is less safe/welcoming for women than the U.S., but even where I’ve lived in the States I don’t ever completely relax when walking alone, especially at night. I make daily choices about where I go and when and with whom and how vigilant to be. In Guangzhou, a weight I usually carry is lifted. Granted, I carry other things, like being illiterate, not speaking the languages around me, and always being foreign, but I feel safe. As always, my comfort or lack thereof is rooted in privilege and power, and I’m striving to always be aware of that. Every day, living in China and traveling to other countries teaches me how little I know, reminds me to listen, and challenges me to appreciate but also question something as simple as being able to walk home at night unmolested and unafraid.
Sometimes I worry that I wax too poetic, but my editor (Amaury) assures me it’s fine.This next weekend should be just as full as the last, since we’re heading to Amaury’s hometown in Jarabacoa in the center of the DR. We’ll meet up with some of his friends and family and do some eco-tourism, including hopefully some time hiking along rivers and waterfalls. With that in mind, I’d better leave you and finish packing.