Silky blond hair sweeps across one shoulder. Victoria gently stirs her packet of instant tea in the kitchen, and eyes me as I prepare mine.
It’s morning and we’ve just woken up together. We had met the night before and hit it off while conversing about Myanmar. She had just arrived in the country for the first time, and it was my last night in this magical land, my third trip here.
After sharing my thoughts and traveler’s tips, we called it a night and settled into a cozy three bed dorm room at the Four Rivers Hostel in downtown Yangon, the former capital of the country formerly known as Burma.
Victoria is from Guernsey, a small British Crown possession in the English Channel. She worked in marketing in London for several years before deciding she had enough of that field and enough of that city. She quit both, packed her bags, and is half-way through a half-year trip in Southeast Asia.
“Good mooorning,” she says in a sweet, accented British feminine voice that endears American men.
My day is brighter already. I join her at the hostel’s communal kitchen table and watch steam dance off my cup of mud-colored sweet tea. I love this stuff so much that while volunteering to teach English in the north, the head teacher/monk bought me a 20 satchel bag of my favorite brand as a going away gift. Best. Present. Ever.
“So, what is it that you do?” Victoria asks before taking a sip.
I inhale through my teeth and hold the breath. The kitchen is silent, but the loudspeaker of a nearby mosque continues to blare. The noise persisted through Saturday night and now into Sunday morning. Was it a recording on repeat, or did someone stay up all night reciting whatever he was reciting? The steady drone of the faraway muezzin and erratic buzzing of nearby mosquitoes had made for a restless night.
I’m getting too old to be sleeping with strangers and sharing toilets, but as a solo traveler the interaction with international backpackers at hostels is an easy way to find companionship. Case in point: a Gurnsean, German, South Korean and Alaskan are sitting around the table waiting to hear what I do for work.
Doctor… lawyer… I wish I could describe it in two syllables and have it be universally understood. I exhale and let go of a disjointed elevator pitch.
“Well, I’m a tour guide in New York and I also have my own iPhone app about the city. For the past four years I was working for corporate event agencies, but hated it, so now I’m focused on my own projects. And umm I also want to ride a bike across the States.”
“That’s so cool,” Victoria said. “So, you’re traveling and doing what you want now. You’re living the dream.”
I laughed. “Not quite yet. More like I’m avoiding the nightmare,” I said, reflecting on my former windowless office job that smelled of sewage. I shouldn’t complain. Even on its worst day it was better than conditions inside Insein.
In a few hours I was heading back to New York via Bangkok and Beijing and unsure of what came next. I wanted to find a new career, something fulfilling and where I didn’t work 50 weeks a year just for two weeks of free time to pursue my passion for travel and writing.
As I mentioned to Victoria, if all else fails I could always do that bike thing across the U.S. That was an extreme last resort. It sounded cool in my mind, but how would I really be able to pull it off?