It’s a cloudy mid-afternoon on October 02. I’m between the land borders of Moc Bai, Viet Nam and Bavet, Cambodia. After greasing the right palms for the rapidly processed, single-entry, Cambodian tourist visa, I try to get a 3 month tourist visa back at the Vietnamese entrance.
I’m promptly denied and instructed to visit the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh for my new visa. Frustrated, I enter Cambodia, and stroll through the numerous casinos under construction immediately after the entrance. A security guard points me to a local who takes me on his motorbike to a nearby bus, reportedly heading to Phnom Penh. Thankfully, it’s departing in 15 minutes and costs only $5US. This ride will take over four hours, the local bus from Ho Chi Minh took three, and before that, I rode an overnight bus for 10 hours from Nha Trang — welcome to last minute visa runs.
I stare out the window at the rural families doing their best to get by on working the land. Much of the vast open fields have varying degrees of flooding, though it feels as if this is an annual occurrence. Not knowing if Phnom Penh is the final destination, or merely a stop, I stay on high alert — fearful of missing my destination.
Though I’ve travelled last minute with no plans before, it’s a completely different story without financial padding to fall back on. Further complicating the situation is the lack of cell service. I value such a connection to be as equally important as having local currency on hand, which I didn’t have either. What I do have is my iPad, iPhone, water bottle, long sleeve shirt, a scarf from India, debit card, and Vietnamese dong; on this sojourn nearly 1,000km from my apartment.
With only the bare essentials, limited funds, stress and being far from home, my state of mind is not optimal. September has been a hard month and I’m trying to put it behind me. The constant visual of a barely operational economy further dampens my mood, despite efforts to mentally replay my successes and reminders of temporary exposure to such an environment. I start to see the overwhelming challenge individuals facing the death grip of poverty are burdened with. I take nearly everything for granted.
Arriving in Phnom Penh, I get out and am relieved the bus driver speaks fluent English. He provides me with departure information about the bus returning to Ho Chi Minh the following day; offers to take me where a there’s a number of ATMs, then to a hostel for the night. His generous support boosts my morale and I hop in his tuk-tuk. Most of the ATMs don’t work and trigger memories of foreign banking issues in India. After being robbed a $5US withdrawal fee from the only working ATM, for $50US, I’m taken to a nearby hostel in a district with a number of foreigners.
“I am a human being — a free entity!”
Handing over my passport and $7US, I enter my room and take a moment to reflect. The bed is large and comfortable, the washroom, though a little dirty, is still my own, I have a some cash on me, and I’m not in any physical danger or under threat. Falling back on the mattress I feel stressed about what I’m pursuing in my life; curious if I’m going through an identity/quarter life crisis. Philosophically, I know what I value. What I need is a practical strategy to monetize a sustainable and scalable online platform which reflects my passions, writing and business ideas.
I not only worry about how to successfully build a niche online business, I’m fearful I’ll fail and have to return to Canada to start over on the typical career path; that I’ll be stuck working a job to pass the time. I have no interest in buying a house, a car and having children. My sister has pursued these, and while I’m happy for her, this is simply not my definition of success, nor my desire in life.
With my arms spread out and a large sigh, I feel a combination of thankfulness and worry. I need to work on my discipline and persistence. It’s extremely easy to become distracted and lose focus. The close personal relationships I’ve developed in Canada have been very supportive so far. Yet while on the opposite side of the world, it can be isolating when needing such support and it not being available for various reasons. It quickly becomes obvious who makes the time to stay in contact. I’m very grateful for my friend Paul G who makes a regular effort to stay in contact. Thank you Paul!
Hungry after the long ride, I sit up and head to the balcony over looking the road. An Austrian couple is sharing a cigarette and I join them for conversation. The hour long distraction is appreciated until I’m too hungry to continue engaging. In the restaurant there are a variety of great options on the menu, I order and pull out my iPhone to call my family. When I finish both the call and my meal, I return to my room and pass out. Naturally waking up in time for breakfast, I reconvene with the same driver who previously agreed to take me to the Vietnamese embassy.
Initially glad to be the first person applying for a visa, it dissolves when I see the sign quoting a 1-2 hour processing fee of $70US up from the normal $40US charge. The embassy doesn’t take Vietnamese dong nor Cambodian Rials, nor credit cards. Of course, the ATM across the street dispenses USD but, like the last, I’m charged another $5US to withdraw $50USD. I do, apply for the visa, wait 30 minutes and am handed my passport.
Upon investigation, I’m appalled though not surprised, to have paid $70USD for some clerk to type my name in a form, print a sticker, sign it and add a red stamp. I wish in kindergarten I was told to appreciate stickers because when I grow up I’d have to pay an arm and a leg for them. The whole principle of visas makes me sick. I am a human being — a free entity. Having to pay for a passport and visas stripes away a humans’ freedom of movement. While it’s cool to hold the little book and have a record of travel, this document should be free! The sale of passports and visas, I believe, is strictly to control population movement. Don’t give me the “processing cost” bullshit, taxes more than cover it (and at the rate countries print money, why not just add a little more?). Nor are the visa fees needed to support the economy — everything I purchase (rent, food, clothes, transportation and entertainment) and my place of employment all directly support and benefit local businesses and individuals. Anyone visiting either invests or spends.
“...to give for the sake of giving.”
When I arrive at the bus station, I wait for the 12:30 departure, spend four hours riding to the Vietnam border, wait 30 minutes in customs, another two hours riding to Ho Chi Minh. While walking to the central bus station, I see two homeless people and reflect on my non-existent efforts to support the less fortunate lately. While in Toronto, China and India, I helped homeless people and learned a thing or two in the process. The first is how I always feel a little better after sharing. Whether it’s buying someone a burger and having lunch with them, giving cash or fresh fruit, the act of giving improves my mood overall and increases my appreciation for what I have. The second is how the act always comes back to me tenfold, in one way or another. Whether it’s in the form of increased compassion, learning, or unexpected financial blessings; my experience has taught me to be kind and offer help without reciprocal expectation — to give for the sake of giving.
Reaching the station, I purchase a ticket and am escorted to the 8pm bus. The moment I board, it leaves, without my knowing the schedule. I breathe a sigh of relief, thankful how everything aligned this perfectly over my 5km walk to board at the last minute. When I step off at 5am in Nha Trang, I’m wide awake, even though I didn’t sleep at all. It’s been a 52 hour process over 2,000km and I’m exhausted. Now that I’ve essentially bought myself more time in the country, I have to get back to grinding! It’s time I shift back into hustler mode.
A quarter life crisis happens to many young people. It’s a lot to process and can feel insurmountable. Here are my 6 Strategies of Strengh to help deal with the stress, confusion and doubt:
1. It might feel as if an immediate win will boost your confidence and get your momentum/spark back. Apart from winning the lottery though, I’ve noticed this is a recovery process which takes time and most importantly — persistence. Develop a step-by-step plan working backwards from your desired state of being/having to actionable steps you can take now!
2. Being persistent is much easier to do when there is structure in your life. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time, every day, are great places to start. It helps to improve quality of sleep and makes it easier to wake up. Regular exercise, at the same time is another habit to start being persistent in.
3. The exercise I’ve been doing is yoga, at 5:30am. I enjoy the cool weather and take in the sunrise over the ocean! Yoga helps to improve blood and oxygen circulation, loosens the muscles and helps to focus on breathing, not to mention a surge of energy and feeling of wellness.
4. Having the publishing commitments of this blog and Solo Trip Report help to push me in trying new activities and tweaking areas of my life I can experiment with and record/observe the results. This helps to create engaging content while taking manageable steps to self-improvement. Find an activity you can regularly commit too and build momentum in keeping it going. Start with once a week.
5. Some Eastern belief systems, particularly Buddhism, believe the state of your house is a representation of your internal being. Regardless of your belief alignment, there certainly is something to be said for the discipline of keeping a space clean and tidy. Furthermore, as much as an external space represents your internal essence, clean the external space and you’ll simultaneously feel better. I first read of this concept in Zen And The Art of Falling In Love — Brenda Shoshana (Amazon, Goodreads).
6. I think the most subconsciously powerful action for me, is going to the beach (I love the water). I walk in over my head, and drift motionless; face down, eyes closed and my feet dragging in the sand. I breathe through a snorkel and the bubbles come out a vent behind the mouthpiece so I hear and feel the bubbles as they rise. This state allows me to tune out all other sensory input and simply rest. It’s as close to a sensory deprivation tank as I can get.
If you have an experience with a quarter-life crisis, whether you’re currently going through one, or have gone through one, what was most helpful for you? Comment below about what steps you took to help get your footing and start progressing again!
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