I Won “Asia Bingo” And It Turned Me Into A Different Person

Cambodia Remote Year

I Won “Asia Bingo” And It Turned Me Into A Different Person

Jun 21, 2017
My last week staying in Kuala Lumpur,  there was a gecko living in my room.

I found him in my closet one night after I’d gotten out of the shower, started to scream (and yeah, ok, cry a little bit) and slammed the door shut.

James had left early, so it was just me, myself and the lizard. For the next five days, I couldn’t sleep because I was too afraid that he was going to escape from his closet prison and crawl into my mouth, Parent Trap style. Every few hours, I would open the door a crack to check if he was still in there, and he always was — staring back at me with his creepy, beady little eyes. I non-stop Googled “how to get a lizard out of your closet” to no avail, and begged the boys from my program to come help me, but no one did. One night, I got home from the bar and drunkenly pleaded with the little guy to please, please GTFO of my room (“Mr Lizard, I’m afraid of you and you’re afraid of me and nobody is winning here” was the gist of the conversation) but he had no interest in vacating his new home. I was so, so freaked out, but there was nothing I could do about it.

Cut to two weeks ago, when I was in an AirBnB in Thailand with two of my friends and there was a lizard on our bedroom ceiling while we were getting ready to go to bed.

“Look, a lizard,” one of the girls said.
“Aw, he’s cute,” I responded.
… And we shut the lights out and said goodnight.

When we first arrived in Asia back in February, the Remote Year City Team handed out scorecards that they’d affectionately named “Asia Bingo.” She explained that over the course of our time in Asia, we would see some crazy stuff, and crazy stuff would inevitably happen to us, too. The point was to turn all of the borderline-traumatizing things (like, yes, sharing your bedroom with a lizard) that could happen while we were living in Asia into a game. Each square had a different “this could only happen in Asia” occurrence on it, and whoever got Bingo won some sort of prize.

By some stroke of luck (or, unluck?) I won. Twice. And then some. In grand total, by the time I left Asia  I had:
  • Gotten a foot massage
  • Seen Wat Arun in Bangkok
  • Stood Homage to the royal family
  • Made a local friend
  • Lived with a gecko. More than once.
  • Haggled to under 50% of an asking price
  • Eaten Street Food (and didn’t get sick)
  • Eaten in an Asian food court (and didn’t get sick, pt. 2)
  • Saw a monkey in the city
  • Been told the thing I wanted on the menu was gone
  • Ridden in a songthaew
  • Rented a Sarong to enter a temple
  • Taken photos with strangers
  • Almost gotten hit by a motorbike
  • Bought elephant pants
  • Got blessed by a monk in a temple

After four months and all of these experiences, I had not only completely adjusted to life in Asia, but I was a totally different person because of it. I didn’t bat an eyelash at creepy crawlies bopping around in my bedroom, and I was no longer afraid of eating mystery street meat, riding on the back of an UBER motorcycle or haggling down to the last dollar for a pair of elephant pants. Living in Asia made me a bolder, less terrified version of myself, and changed me in ways that I could never have expected.

It’s not just, Asia, though. Being so far away from home has stretched me in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined. I’ve had to become self sufficient in every aspect of my life, from learning to communicate with cab drivers who didn’t speak a word of English to figuring out how not to get decapitated by an elevator door. Plus, I was 12 hours ahead of my mom and sister, so I couldn’t exactly call them in a time of crisis. Hell, I caught a catfish with my bare hands, and lived to tell the story. If you had told me six months ago that that would ever be a thing, I would have laughed in your face.

As I mastered this huge adjustment to life on my own, in Asia, there was something else that happened to me that I didn’t expect: I became jaded. Things that seemed like the biggest, coolest deal when I arrived — seeing a monkey, drinking coconut water out of an actual coconut, finding an entire outfit for under $10 — were a part of my everyday life. Thankfully, my little brother came to visit me my last week in Thailand, and I got to see everything through his eyes as if it were my first time all over again. I am so, so grateful to him for helping me leave Asia feeling as amazed and grateful as I was when I arrived.

Now, as I sit in Serbia with a glass of decent wine and a bowl of raspberries (two things that were impossible to find in Asia) I feel horribly nostalgic for my life in the East… Something that I never would have expected. I miss the sounds that once kept me up at night, the foods I was initially too afraid to eat, and the people I managed to find common ground with despite all of our differences. Mostly, I miss my gecko roommate — I feel like I owe him an apology.

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