Chapter 13: Self Care

How do I explain the fast pace and insane lifestyle of Remote Year? Can you imagine what it’s like to travel constantly while working to pay the bills? Although I have a home base each month for four to five weeks at a time, I take lots of side trips here and there to try and see everything I can. I’ve spent the year with a community of 30+ people who are always gathering and planning events and wanting to hang out. On top of that there are events and experiences offered through Remote Year every week that you wouldn’t want to miss. With all that’s happening, it can be nearly impossible to find time for myself. I’ve always considered myself a social person, but I’ve realized recently that I also need lots of time to recharge between social gatherings.  This can be hard to find and prioritize in Remote Year.

This lesson of finding balance was my biggest takeaway from my first three months in Asia. After struggling through two major meltdowns in June and July, I promised that August would be a month of rest and self-care so I could put this latest lesson into practice and learn how to listen to my needs and honor them. I had a feeling that Kuala Lumpur would be the perfect place to take it easy and focus on me. Malaysia isn’t a particularly touristy place, so there really isn’t that much to see and do, unlike so many of the places I’ve been this year. This would mean a month to slow down and live a somewhat “normal” life. I could stay in more, watch TV and cook healthy meals at home, ultimately saving money and reserving energy. I knew this was exactly what I needed after so many months of “go-go-go.” 

On an island adventure with Alana and Tom

After a week in the Philippines I left Sam and headed for KL. We’d stayed with my aunt and uncle, Alana and Tom, at their house in the Camotes Islands for six days where they and Alana’s family had taken great care of us, showing us the best spots around and cooking us wonderful meals each day. After a full week side-by-side, Sam and I said our goodbyes, knowing it would be five weeks until we’d be reunited in Croatia. In our seven months together, we’d never been apart for more than two weeks at a time. Unfortunately, this time we weren’t given much of a choice.

Malaysia is a Muslim country that doesn’t recognize Israel as a nation. Because of this, Israeli citizens are unable to enter the country. Since religion and politics stood in the way of Sam joining the group in KL, he had made other plans for the month of August. He’d invited me to join him as he returned home and then went on to several other countries, but I couldn’t afford the whirlwind adventure he had planned. I also knew Malaysia was a country I’d probably never think to visit on my own, so I was excited to experience something different. I’d heard good things about KL and felt it would be an affordable place to relax and take it easy for a month. Plus, almost half our group had chosen to spend the month in Bali instead of staying in Malaysia, so there would be less temptation to go out and do everything and run myself down. I was so ready for a month of R&R.

I showed up in Kuala Lumpur and immediately felt at home. My roommate, Aleah, and I had a beautiful apartment with a great view of the eco-reserve rainforest and KL Tower. Our entire group was living in the same high-rise building with access to a pool and restaurants and for the first 30 hours, I didn’t even venture out to the street. I spent my first day unpacking, working out, pampering myself with DIY spa treatments and relaxing at home. I wandered down to the pool for a few moments to say “hi” to some friends and grab a sandwich at the café, but more than anything I just enjoyed the pure bliss of having a beautiful home and the time and space to focus on myself and nothing else.

When I finally emerged my second day, it was with simple goals in mind. I set out to find a market and perhaps a post office and a tailor. This is pretty much how I planned out my first week there. I’d schedule one outing per day, giving myself something to look forward to without pushing myself beyond my limits. I ventured into Chinatown, attended a talk on the Muslim way of life, had lunch at a refugee family’s home and slowly explored the city and the neighborhood around us.

My first Saturday I went to dinner with Tori and Aaron. We headed to a soup stand they’d found in Chinatown where we sat in folding chairs and drank the most delicious spicy soup, sweating and sipping in a feverish frenzy. This soup was so good we just couldn’t resist. After that we made our way down the street, determined to find a speakeasy or two. We found directions on Google and followed them to PS150. As we arrived outside, we met our friends Szilvie and Jesus. They were on a pub crawl, which had led them to the same bar, so we decided to join them and continued bar hopping with the pub crawl for the rest of the evening. We had a great time and I exchanged Instagram details with our hosts, hoping to get to know some locals and branch outside of our small group a bit.

Exploring speakeasies in China Town

My second week was a bit more active than my first as I found myself ziplining, visiting the Batu Caves and taking a cycling tour of the city. Despite all this activity, I took time to recover, knowing when I’d pushed myself too far and needed some quiet time. Ef, the host of the pub crawl, told me about another Airbnb experience his partner was planning to offer. It was a hike up Bukit Tabur, a hill outside the city. Shan, Ef’s partner, had done the hike several times, but needed to take photos to post on Airbnb. He offered to guide me for free if I’d let him take a few shots along the way.

Early Thursday morning Shan picked me up and we drove to Bukit Tabur. The path had been roped off, as the government had blocked the route to the public, deeming it unsafe. We arrived while it was still dark and ducked under the rope, using headlamps to guide us.  As we hiked, the sun began to rise, although the view was mostly obstructed by clouds and mist. The clouds slowly burned off and we were gifted with a gorgeous panorama of the city to one side and a giant dam to the other. We stopped along the way to fly Shan’s drone and take photos. We even met two young students. As we continued on the path, we suddenly found ourselves climbing up rock faces with ropes to hold onto. At one point you had to pass along a couple giant boulders holding and standing on giant metal staples driven into the rock. I began to understand why the hike was off limits as I fought past my fear of heights and trusted myself to keep going.  I could understand how someone less fit and agile could find himself in danger at this point in the route. I had found it exhilarating and beautiful. It was quite possibly the highlight of my month.

The view from Bukit Tabur

That weekend I went out both Friday and Saturday nights. Friday night I joined friends from our group at a cabaret show and Saturday night I ended up on Ef’s pub crawl again. This time around we diverted from the normal route after four speakeasies, heading to another neighborhood called Bangsar. We went to a smoky club surrounded by locals dancing to great music. Although I’d been tired before leaving for Bangsar and never got a second wind, I had wanted to see how the locals live and make some new friends. After the club made our way to a Chinese restaurant for late night dinner. Seven of us ate well for only $10 total!

Throughout the three weeks I spent in KL I was still working nights, but my hours had slowed down considerably. I had decided not to look for work, because the night shift had taken such a toll on me the two previous months and I wanted to really focus on getting to a good place mentally and emotionally. I didn’t want the stress and strain of working a full night shift after what I’d put myself through in Thailand and Japan. So I worked when I could and took care of the business that came in and tried to save money, which proved to be really easy. I enjoyed many nights in with friends drinking wine and chatting or watching TV. Twice I found myself out drinking for free, because the bars near our apartment would offer free drinks to ladies on Thursday and Friday nights. By cooking at home and eating in street stalls and cheap restaurants, I ate well without spending much on food. I did go clothes shopping one day in my last week there. Talia took me to the cheapest mall in town and I splurged, buying almost an entire new wardrobe for under $50. The affordability factor alone made me fall in love with Malaysia.

My last week in the city was spent with friends. I spent time getting to know my new local friends, especially Shan and Shazlin. We talked about societal issues and had deep discussions of morality and family dynamics. I enjoyed great food with my Remote Year community, getting to know people better one-on-one and in group settings. I felt refreshed and in control of my life, having struck the perfect balance of activity and serenity in my last weeks in Asia. I had enjoyed KL, made new friends, become closer to existing friends and taken the time I needed to care for myself. I knew, having achieved this balance that I could maintain it as I moved on to Croatia. Having learned to listen to my internal needs, I could now understand when I’d had enough stimulation and socialization and subdue the FOMO, understanding how to prioritize my time in a way that would keep me from burning out. As we met up with the rest of our group, joining us from Bali, it was great to see everyone again and I felt like a whole new me heading into our final chapter of the year. With only four more months ahead I look back at the past eight months and how I’ve grown and I know that both the challenges and the triumphs of this year have contributed to that change. I am a different person than I was in January, who knows who I’ll be in December.

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