Erica and Matt Chua: Luck Didn’t Get Us Here

“You’re so lucky!” is the worst phrase in the English language.  It’s something we’re told by many people when they find out we’ve traveled for two years without working.  Saying this belittles everyone’s ability to make their dreams come true, even their own, as it wasn’t luck that got us here, it was following the lesson below.  Since this is the week we make resolutions to change, here’s how you can accomplish any goal, no matter how big, as we did when we set off to travel the world.  You can use this guide not to make a resolution, but to make things happen.

Cute?  Certainly, but don’t wait for this little guy to make your dreams come true….
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LUCK, LEPRECHAUNS AND LIGHTNING

Before going any further let’s once and for all end the myth of luck.  Luck is like getting struck by lightning, it’s not random, it’s not chance.  If you stand on your roof with a metal poll in a lightning storm, getting struck isn’t “dumb luck”.Not getting struck because you were in your home isn’t luck either.  Lottery winners aren’t any more lucky, rarely has a person hit the jackpot on their first $1 ticket, rather they buy hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on tickets for years before winning.  Getting struck by lightning (or not) and winning the lottery isn’t about luck, it’s about setting yourself up for it.  The reality is luck is as real as the leprechauns who bring it.

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CHAMPIONS DON’T GET LUCKY

Michael Jordan, Michael Schumacher or Roger Federer aren’t lucky.  We just weren’t watching them as they perfected their craft for hours every day, for years, before we knew their name.  While we saw them do things in their sport that nobody had done before, we didn’t see the hours each day they worked behind-the-scenes.  Others have had the physical talents of these champions, but only those that put in the work, dedicate themselves to perfection, and overcome obstacles (personal and physical) that become household names.

The same goes for when you watch a professional anything.  What seems so effortless, so easy, is actually the result of years of practice.  Think of something you do that there are professionals, anything from soccer to cooking: don’t professionals make hard things look easy?  Their skills weren’t gained overnight or by a lightning strike, no, they’ve spent years perfecting their craft.

Ana Ivanovic didn’t become the world’s #1 women’s tennis player because she was lucky…
it was the hours on practice courts like this one.
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Erica and Matt Chua: Luck Didn’t Get Us Here

Erica and Matt Chua: Himalayan Hiking Logistics

Hiking the Himalayas shouldn’t be a dream as it is easier and cheaper than most people think.  Want to cross this off your bucket list?  You can indulge yourself in scenes like this for as little as $20 a day!

A view worth the walk from the Cho-La Pass on the Three Passes Trek.

Let me start with a quick intro: if I can do it, you can too.  Traveling for almost two years has taken it’s toll on me.  I probably couldn’t complete a 5k without requiring medical attention and have extra “padding” in places that need no padding.  Prior to this my longest hikes were four days, staying in quasi-luxury New Zealand accommodations.  In summary, you don’t need a Kenyan running partner to prepare for these hikes, reasonable fitness will suffice.

Part of the Annapurna Circuit, always surprising with beautiful views and unexpected changes from desert, to mountain, to lush oasis.

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Erica and Matt Chua: Himalayan Hiking Logistics

Erica and Matt Chua: Vietnam on Arrival

Downtown Ho Chi Minh

Vietnam.  For a 20-something American the name signifies a war more than a place.  I have seen the movies, but have little understanding of the place and conflict.  I know we went due to the Domino Theory, but I never grasped how a theory became a war.  I know we fought and lost.

I headed off to Vietnam without doing any research.  It was only recently that I had learned where Vietnam was on a map.  I heard Vietnam was a fast developing country with factories producing for the West.  It sounded like many places I had gone, but on arrival it gave me some shock and awe.

When I arrived from Singapore I was surprised by how large, clean and new the airport was.  It could have been in any developed country and was nicer than most American airports.  The change was especially stark coming from Singapore’s Budget Terminal which was like the sanatorium in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  The only airport hassle was picking up my Vietnam Visa on Arrival from a bureaucratic regime that was holding up 30+ people.  Luckily, my visa processed fastest of anyone on my plane and faster than most on a plane that had arrived earlier.  After gathering myself and belongings, I exited the airport expecting a crush of touts, taxi services and unsavory individuals that hound tourists in many airports.  As I exited I was surprised by the calm and order.

Outside I met a Finnish man who was being hassled by a taxi tout, in hushed tones only good English speakers could comprehend we surmised that we were heading to the same area.  I told him I wanted to take the bus and he agreed.  The taxi tout told us the last bus had left as service ceased at 6pm.  It was 5:55pm.  We haggled to an agreeable price and the tout told us to wait in the parking lot.  Realizing he may not be allowed to fetch passengers at the door, we obliged and waited.  Minutes passed and the tout was nowhere to be seen.  Then the bus arrived.  With no taxi in sight we boarded the bus which was 94% cheaper than the taxi would have been.

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Erica and Matt Chua: Vietnam on Arrival

Erica and Matt Chua: Hiking the Routeburn Track

This was our second Great Walk in New Zealand.  Click here to read about the Milford Track, New Zealand’s most famous hike.

Inscribed on almost every “World’s Best” hikes list is the Routeburn Track in New Zealand.  All too often the reality fails to meet the hyped expectations, but Routeburn does not disappoint.  From start to finish the trail wow’s you so much that the work of hiking is forgotten.

The sun rising outside the Routeburn Falls Hut, a fine start to our final day on the track.  This is a view hikers traveling in the traditional, Queenstown to Te Anau, direction are given on their first day.

Having completed the Milford Track just days earlier we chose to hike in the opposite direction of most, starting from Te Anau and hiking towards the comforts of Queenstown, the de facto capital of New Zealand tourism.  We had been discouraged by the weather report in the Department of Conservation office: freezing temperatures and snow at the level of the campsites.

Traveling with $25 warm-weather sleeping bags and yet to rent a tent, news of snow was unwelcome.  Given our experiences with rental tents we made the expensive decision to change from camping to staying in hut dormitories.  Even though the huts were listed as booked we learned that there are a couple extra beds always available for a difference of $36 NZD ($28 USD) per person ($54 NZD for huts versus $18 NZD to camp in high season).  Being budget travelers as we are, we lamented the cost, but decided that if greeted by rain, snow and freezing temperatures, this was the right move.

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Erica and Matt Chua: Hiking the Routeburn Track

Erica and Matt Chua: Hiking the Milford Track

What makes a “Great Walk”?  This question haunted me after reserving our spots on the Milford Track.  Reputedly one of the world’s best hikes, reservations are required months in advice at the cost of almost $250 USD per person for the four day, three night, hike.  What kind of public park hike requires you to carry all your stuff, cook your own food,and costs over $50 a day?  After a year of traveling on less, paying that much to hike uphill seemed absurd.  That said, having made the payment, we’d soon find out how great this Great Walk is.

After a beautiful boat ride to the trailhead the first day is lovably short hike through moss-covered forests.

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Erica and Matt Chua: Hiking the Milford Track

Erica and Matt Chua: He Said/She Said: Japanese Fashion

When you hear “Japanese fashion”, what do you think?  Middle-age men wearing Disney World hats, Las Vegas t-shirts and enormous cameras?  Or do you think the Harajuku women, dressed up like dolls, anime characters, and the occasional horse head?  Are their fashion choices representing craziness or self-expression in a repressive society?  Read our takes then have your say in the comments below.

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HE SAID…

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Fashion in Japan is interesting.  “Interesting” used in a Minnesota-nice sort of way, as in, “it’s not my thing, I’m not sure about it, actually it makes me a little uncomfortable, but I can’t say that because…well I’m a Minnesotan.”  I’ve been told that in other parts of the country people would say something like, “God bless their heart, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that!”  I think many of the fashions are absolutely crazy, the pedophile soliciting schoolgirl outfits, the dancing Elvises, the anime characters!?!  I don’t get it.

I don’t understand why people want to walk down the street and have people gawking at them.  I don’t get why people want to become a tourist attraction.  I really can’t comprehend why some of them get annoyed that tourists take photos of them, after all, they are the ones drawing the attention to themselves with their choices of clothing.  More over, how long does it take these people to get all done up like this?  Caking on the layers of makeup, doing up their hair, buying all the clothes, putting themselves together the way you would a Barbie Doll.  The time, effort, cost and ogling makes the whole production seem unrewarding.

Are those shoes comfortable?  Whatever you used to make your face look like that…is it toxic?  What if it doesn’t go back to “normal”?  Do you even care?  What do you want to be?  What feeling does it give you to do yourself up like this?  Why, why, why?  Maybe I have too many question, maybe I’m too cerebral for fashion, maybe it’s me that’s crazy, not them, but I’m pretty certain it’s them.

There is one thing I do like in Japanese and in broader Asian fashion: super short mini skirts.  If wacky english worded slogans on shirts, strange makeup combinations, or odd styles are what we have to accept to get super short shorts on a daily basis then I could be converted…

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Erica and Matt Chua: He Said/She Said: Japanese Fashion

Erica and Matt Chua: He Said-She Said: Missing the Holidays

Most of the year being away from home is just fine.  Daily life doesn’t give us much to miss, but the holidays are a different story.  Do we want to be at an ugly sweater party?  Yeah, you betcha!  Do we want to be feasting on unhealthy food just because it’s a holiday?  Of course!  Here are the key things about the holidays we miss.

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HE SAID…

December is a deceptively good month at home.  The fun of the holidays outweighs the fact that in Minnesota the temperature drops below freezing; a mark it won’t rise above until sometime in May.  While the air outside becomes frosty, inside it’s a different story, the warmth of people abounds.  Everywhere becomes festive, downtown Minneapolis hosts a nightly parade, stores that seem barren in the summer are wrapped in decorations, and people open their homes to share great food, catch up, and drink a little too much eggnog.  Overall, December is a month that I wish were longer.

Ever seen The Hangover?  At the end they find a digital camera with photos of the night before that show scenes that are unbelievable for even those that were there.  Our friend’s holiday party is like that.  Part of you wishes there were no digital cameras and facebook, but you also realize that’s a big part of the fun.  The party doesn’t really celebrate the holidays, rather it uses the holidays as a reason to party, in costume.  This year’s theme, Punk Rock Christmas, will celebrate the decade we were born in, but too young to rock mohawks and leather jackets without our parents’ agreeing to pay for them.  Being the season of giving, there is a gift exchange where you can expect to walkaway with household essentials such as stuffed bobcats and profane inflatable objects. This is one holiday party that is a shame to miss.

Stuffed bobcat!?  You know you want one and the gift exchange is a great place to get it.

A close second to missing Punk Rock Christmas is being able to indulge in eating without shame.  The holidays are a time when it’s seemingly OK to catch up with family while holding a plate that only contains prime rib, lamb, and turkey.Sure, there are plenty of other things I could put on my plate, some carbs for example, but why?  Spending time with loved ones and a plate of meat is what makes December different from Thanksgiving when people will plop sweet potatoes onto your plate against your will.  The holidays are all about food, family and friends, which makes December a great month.
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SHE SAID…

I have always had a white Christmas, being from Minnesota having snow on the ground is a sign that the holidays are just around the corner.  While we have chased summer weather around the world, I miss the snow that tells me it’s time for holiday parties, ice sculptures and long standing family traditions.  Sure I wish I could attend friend’s ugly sweater parties and play secret santa, but what I miss most is our traditional  Christmas Eve meal and our eclectic Christmas Day gathering of friends and family.

My plate of food with Swedish meatballs, Swedish sausage, lefse and a tiny bit of obligatory lutefisk.

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Erica and Matt Chua: He Said-She Said: Missing the Holidays

Erica and Matt Chua: Agra’s #1 Attraction

Every year millions of tourists flock to Agra to see the white marble, architectural marvel that is the Taj Mahal.  Few leave disappointed.  To enjoy the magic of the Taj give yourself a few days to truly take in this legacy of the Mughal empire.  Seeing the domed mausoleum from several different vantage points will leave you awe-inspired and offer you the best opportunity for a prized photo.

The Taj was completed in 1653 after 22 years of construction and some 20,000 workers contributing their efforts including specialists from as far away as Europe.  It is widely thought to be the most beautiful building in the world.  Shah Jahan built it as a memorial for his second wife, Mumtaz whom died giving birth to their 14th child. Not long after it’s completion Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son and imprisoned in Agra Fort.  He spent the rest of his days only able to admire the Taj from a distance until he was entombed in his own creation next to Mumtaz in 1666.

Unlike Shah Jahan, you are not restricted to viewing the Taj from just one vantage point.  Being that likely your number one reason for paying a visit to Agra is to see the Taj, take time to find your favorite vista.  The four identical faces of the Taj are an exercise in architectural symmetry, yet the eye seems to notice different things from various angles.  Below are my three favorite views, each offering a unique perspective and gave me a new appreciation for this awe-inspiring memorial.

North Bank of the Yamuna River

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Erica and Matt Chua: Agra’s #1 Attraction

Erica and Matt Chua: India’s Big City Life

There are few situations more overwhelming than finding yourself in one of India’s largest cities. The sensory assault soon crescendos into an all out war on your senses with the cacophony of noises and smells fighting for your attention. The problem is these aren’t pleasant sounds and smells, constant honking, yelling along with the stench of garbage urine and body odor. So, what can I say to convince you that visiting any of these cities would be an enjoyable experience. Well, along with staggering statistics these cities also boast some of the best dining, sights and experiences India has to offer.

Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai

MUMBAI 20.5 million

Mumbai has something for everyone with the world’s most prolific movie industry, one of Asia’s largest slums, the most expensive residence ever built and more artists and servants than L.A. India’s most modern metropolis is a 24 hour party or the best place to find a good book and a proper cup of coffee- you decide. We’ve talked to travelers that couldn’t get out of there fast enough, but we could have stayed and eaten the cupcakes at Theobroma forever. It’s a city where dreams are born and dreamers dwell, so come and get inspired!

When to Go: October to February

Don’t Miss: Chowpatty Beach (FREE), Malabar Hill (FREE, a round trip cab ride from Colaba is about $4) , Bollywood (If you’re an extra they pay you!), Restaurants of Colaba (a nice dinner for two $20-$100 without wine), Dharavi slum (tour through Reality Tours is $10 per person), Dhobi Ghat laundry area (FREE, a round trip cab ride from Colaba is about $4)

Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi

DELHI 17 million

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Erica and Matt Chua: India’s Big City Life

Erica and Matt Chua: Ms. Ha’s School of Marketing

Before we had even unpacked our bags in our sixth floor room in Can Tho there was a knock at the door.  Upon opening the door in came a short, fiery Vietnamese woman that we could tell wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer before we could even figure out what she was selling.  She squatted down and started pulling out photos, maps, a notebook and testimonials from previous customers.  She jumped right into her sales pitch for her boat tours on the Mekong Delta for “good price.”  Her English was some of the best we had heard in Vietnam and she was talking a mile a minute while writing down pricing in her notebook to show us.  $20 for a half day private tour and $40 for a full day private tour down the Mekong Delta.  Before we even had time to respond to anything she had presented she was shoving testimonials written in every language at us, clearly proud of all her happy customers.

Her aggressive sales pitch and excellent English landed us on a small boat at 5:30 am the next morning in the Mekong Delta.  Breakfast was included, coffee too, as well as a driver and English speaking guide.  Our guide was an affable older gentleman who had fought in the South Vietnamese Military alongside the Americans in the Vietnam War, which is where he picked up his English.  They were a great pair for giving us a glimpse into life on the Delta and for getting plastic bags out of the motor so that the tour could continue.

The first stop was Cai Rung floating market, the largest in the Mekong Delta.  Most of the trading, selling and buying happens between 6-8 am, so we were right on time.  Next we headed to a small rice paper making operation, which also seemed to be raising pigs and pythons.  With all the rice noodles we had been eating we didn’t know how they were made, so this stop was of particular interest as they made rice paper that was then made into noodles.

We continued down the Delta observing how people lived along the rivers and watching as new bridges were being built and barge traffic made it’s way towards Saigon.  Much of the Mekong Delta looks the same, but we were kept entertained as our driver made  us bouquets of flowers, grasshoppers and jewelry out of coconut palm leaves.  Our guide also made us some pineapple lollipops and attempted to teach us Vietnamese.

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Erica and Matt Chua: Ms. Ha’s School of Marketing