Day 5: The night is always darkest before the dawn

Day 5: The night is always darkest before the dawn

Dramatic title, I know, but we’ll get to that.

Today was our last day in Myanmar. As has become par for the course, it rained pretty hard all morning. Luckily for us, getting a taxi wasn’t too difficult, so we made it away from our breakfast spot back to the hotel easily enough. Where we stayed basically until checkout, hoping to wait out the rain.

By noon, we were forced out of the dry confines of our hotel and had to check out. We left our bags with the front desk and headed to a nearby market, where we wandered around and marveled in the “real jade” and “good deals”. Overall, it was a mix of tourist goods, with some local flair hidden in the back corners.

The most interesting part was when we found the food area and were immediately attacked on all sides by people wanting us to drink their coffee, eat their noodles, and partake in their other foods. It was a little scary how they all jumped out of no where with already prepared dishes just ready to go.

Afterward, we made our way to the airport and said goodbye to Myanmar.

Our flight via AirAsia took consisted of 2 short jumps. An 1 1/2 to Bangkok, and 1 hour to Phuket. By the time we arrived it was late, we were tired, and everything seemed just a tad harder than it should be. First we ran back and forth trying to find a place to exchange money. Most of them were already closed and too few people spoke english to really get us where we needed to go. Eventually we found an exchange out by the taxi stands and got that out of the way.

Next we tried to join a group bus, in order to save some money, out to Patang Beach, where we were staying. Our first hint of what was to come should have been when no one recognized our hotel name. After waiting a while, and wondering why nothing was happening, we asked around and found out that they needed 10 people to send the shuttle. This unfortunately meant we needed 8 more people… So we opted for the more expensive private car option.

Oh well, at least we’d get there.

Then came the next problem. Where’s our hotel? The driver didn’t know. People on the street didn’t know. Oh wait. It’s in the back of Subway. Yes, the sandwich shop.

When in Phuket I suppose. So we went inside.

Of course the story doesn’t end here, because of course the reception person didn’t speak english, and apparently our reservation was for the next day. Except, we had confirmation paperwork to support that we had the correct date. That didn’t matter though, after being schooled on the fact that we cannot check in at 2am, but that it is 2pm that you check in. We left, refusing to pay for yet another night at this crappy, crappy hotel.

So there we are, wandering down the beach with all our gear, fighting off the throngs of taxi drivers, who want to take us to “cheap hotels” and clubs. Wondering what we’ll do for the night, when we stumble upon the Horizon Beach Resort Hotel. Tired and frustrated we decide to just go in and see if they have a room. We really didn’t care at this point, we just needed a place to sleep. As we’re walking through the beach entrance, we’re pretty sure we’re going to have to pay way more than we can afford, but we’re desperate, so we talk to the man at the front desk.

It seems rooms are 2500 baht a night, and they have a room, with 2 doubles. Sensing our frustration with the night and the late hour, I think the man took pity on us and discounted the rate to 1950 baht. In case your currency conversion skills need a refresher, that is a hefty $61.57 … Getting better. So we took it.

As Lauren puts it, this was meant to be, as we woke up this morning to a free buffet / continental style breakfast with an omelet station, fruit, and BACON! So, we’ve spent the morning wandering down the beaches, fighting off tour guides, and just enjoying the accidental awesomeness that was our Phuket room for the night.

Next up: Ko Phi Phi Don.

Day 4: Riding Around in Circles (On a Train)

Day 4: Riding Around in Circles (On a Train)

The threat of rain has been ongoing during our time in Yangon. We spent much of the day just waiting for the forcasted rain to come, but luckily it waited until later in the day to actually appear.

Today we spent more time walking around than any other. Partially because we wanted to see more of the city and partially because we had some trouble finding some of the places we were looking for. It has become clear that Google Maps is a tad spotty for this area, which is understandable, as I highly doubt that map accuracy in Myanmar is their highest priority. Regardless, it has been good enough most of the time.

Amidst the confusion we actually ran into an amazing area called People’s Square and Park.

This was actually one of the nicest, well maintained parts of the city we could find. You could tell that a lot of pride is taken in maintaining this outdoor area, which appears to be one of the few parts of the city where anti-litering laws are not only present but strictly enforced. The park was filled with all sorts of locals relaxing, walking, and even using some of the stationary exercise equipment. One man in general was pulling off some headstands that woud make the people at my crossfit box jealous.

Afterward we headed out to locate a local handmade craft space called Pomelo. It was a nice little slice of local artists selling their very unique goods. Lots of hand woven dolls, carved woodwork, and recycled jewelry. It was on par with what I would expect to find in NYC at a small popup shop. Pretty cool to see people practicing craft here as well.

We finally made our way to the Circular Train later on in the afternoon. It was quite the journey. For background’s sake, the circular train is a 50km train that acts as the main commuter way for people to get into and out of the city proper. It has 3 classes of cars, from ordinary up to first class and is filled with people of all sorts. The train takes about 3 hours to complete its full journey around the city and travels quite slow. It stops at a wide array of places, from small train stations, to slabs of cement seeminly in the middle of no where.

On the train, you pass by probably the closest approximation of every day life here and it is in a word, humbling. I’m not sure it really hit me for the first two hours that we were on the train, but by the last hour the gravity of how people live here really hit me. These people truly have nothing. We saw people working in rice patties, small “villages” where the structure seemed to be made from old found tarps and wood. Burned out structures, with cloth over the windows to help keep the elements out. Then 500 feet away we’d see large houses with satalite dishes, that while weather worn like much of what is here, looked immaculate. While we also saw markets along the way, full of people that were happy and selling their goods (mostly fruit and bread), it is hard to grasp the disparity in how people live here. While I wouldn’t describe very many people here as rich, in the way that I’d see in New York, there is a vast difference in how some people here live.

I’m honestly not sure I was full prepared to see this. I’m grateful for the experience, and I think it will definitely shape my understanding of what people actually go through in other places. Not only that, but that they actually still maintain happy lives regardless.

Truly humbling.

Day 3: Exploring Yangon on a Rainy Day

Day 3: Exploring Yangon on a Rainy Day

Our first full day in Yangon started off with the search for breakfast. Instead of taking a taxi to the restaurant, we decided to walk there. Being New Yorkers, this didn’t seem like a bad choice, as it seemed to be less than a mile away. Along the way, we definitely got a feel for the city in a different way than we would have otherwise. One thing we both noticed right away was that there were almost no other tourists doing the same thing. I’m not sure if this was because it was fairly early in the morning, or if it was because most people stick to taxis when traveling around, but I definitely felt a tad out of place in certain areas.

We had planned to take the circular train around the country side, to see more of the city, after going to see some of the local markets, but instead found ourselves unprepared when a hard rain came. Though we managed to find our way by taxi to the second market, it was hard to navigate around, due to the downpour and we decided to retreat back to our hotel to regroup. While the we missed out on the train, we did use the rain as an excuse to catch up on some missing sleep, getting us a tad closer to being on a more correct schedule.

In the evening we made our way back out for dinner at a slightly upscale restaurant just a few minutes away by taxi. The restaurant itself seemed to be in an old British estate house. The food itself was quite good. Lauren opted for a mix of Thai dishes, whereas I decided to stick to traditional Myanmar fare. One thing I’m trying to do is make sure that I branch out at least a little bit with my food choices, by actually eating more local fare. Lauren is already a more adventurous eater, so she gets a pass on this front.

One of the more interesting lessons I’ve come to find in this place is what it is like to be “the foreigner.” Never before in my life have I had to really consider what it takes to communicate with other people when you’re in a strange place. When I’ve encountered people from other countries, who have had poor english skills, I don’t think I ever appreciated how hard it is to be in that position. Nor did I really come to respect the fact that they took the time to learn some of the language of the place they were going. There are definitely some language staples I’m going to make sure I learn before I travel like this again.

As promised some pictures from today’s travels.

Day 2. Onto Myanmar

Day 2. Onto Myanmar

We arrived in the early evening after a quick flight in from Bangkok. The terminal was small, bare, and felt as if it was just beginning to gain some of the modern features seen in other international airports. I wouldn’t say that it felt like the 3rd world, as there were definite modern touches. It just felt as if it were a couple decades behind what we’re typically used to.

Before leaving New York, we made a point (by we I really mean Lauren) of making sure we had gotten our visas for Myanmar, having heard stories of how difficult they were to obtain. After several missteps, most notably with the fact that my own passport had never been signed, she managed to secure us our right to travel into Yangon. So it was with a tad bit of disbelief that we arrived and found several booths stating “Visa on Arrival” with no apparent lines. Good to know for the future that this process is being streamlined.

Immigration itself was a breeze. We managed to get through with no trouble, secure our bags and get through customs easily. Then came the onslaught of taxi drivers.

It seems that Taxis are possibly the number one source of employment here (totally unverified fact), as there are hundreds of available taxis, not only at the airport, but all over the city. We initially were approached by a driver who creeped us out a little by his following us around, trying to get us into his car, so at our first opportunity we ditched him and grabbed a different driver. While I feel a bit bad about the situation, it turned out okay, as our new driver was a very friendly man, who has been to the US a couple times in his life and had tons of tips for us on places to eat.

Just a quick note on taxis in Yangon. There do not appear to be any meters in taxis here, however we haven’t found any of them to be gouging us in pricing so far. The beauty is, there are so many available drivers, that if you’re not sure, just flag down someone else and ask how much. Getting an english speaking driver is a tad hit or miss, but most of them seem to know just enough.

The streets are busy and full of both pedestrians and cars. I get the feeling that the rules of the road are much less defined here, as pedestrians will walk into the middle of the street and stand there, forcing cars to drive around them. The drivers don’t really seem to take much notice, as if this is just the way society works here.

In the evening, we decided to trek out and see the Schwedagon Pagoda. Though we decided to save some money and not go inside, the outside of it is absolutely stunning at night, with the spotlights reflecting against the gold exterior, across the night sky. 

I’ll upload more pictures later, once we hit more stable wifi.

Day 1. We made it!

Day 1. We made it!

The Flight

We left JFK at around 9pm on Friday night, with hope and excitement gleaming in our eyes. Our flight was made in 3 legs.

The first, to Frankfurt Germany, was arguably the more difficult of the 3, even though it wasn’t the longest. Perhaps it was simply because we were getting used to what was to come, that this part felt so much harder. For me it was getting used to being trapped in such a small space, for such a protracted period of time. Before this, the longest I had been in a bad seat was for 4, maybe 5 hours. Here, it was closer to 7 hours, just for the first leg. For Lauren, I think the struggle came in the form of finding food that she could eat. Naively, we had opted for gluten free meals, which basically meant they gave us fruit and rice cakes. No joke.

Luckily I think we learned our lesson on this one and managed to make the 2nd leg work in our favor. While significantly longer, I think I started to just get used to the leg smashing after a little while. It definitely helped that the Germans sitting in front of us for the first leg, who so joyous liked to move their seats around, got off in Frankfurt. While it was still a tight space, it became easier as time went on to lose myself in the cornucopia of relatively new movies available on the screen in front of me.

For food, we managed to get our meals switched to the normal ones for the next leg, which while still not ideal, gave us both better choices. Honestly, I feel really bad for people who have an actual gluten allergy and have no choice in these situations. While it was food, it really wasn’t what I would consider complete meals in the way the rest of what people were served was.

Overall though, the flight was great. Singapore Airlines has amazing service and while our gluten free choice was unfortunate, that was our fault entirely and the rest of the food was quite impressive for an airline. The in flight entertainment was a life saver as well. Both Lauren and I were able to find plenty to keep us entertained for the 18+ hours of flying to get to Bangkok.


We arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) at around 12pm on Sunday. At this point, the airport felt familiar enough that I’m not sure the fact that we had flown almost to the opposite side of the planet had hit me yet. Getting out was actually quite fast, even though we did have to go through immigrations to get our visas, we still made it to baggage before our bags had arrived. 

It was when we finally started heading into the city via taxi that I think I started to notice the differences. The mix of high end and low end. On one side you’d have big stadiums and tall buildings, then you’d see a group of small shacks along the road. Strangely, the state of the city itself reminds me quite a bit of Detroit, where there are just a lot of old run down buildings that time has forgotten about.

By the time we reached our hotel, our resolve to stay awake for the remainder of the day, so that we could reset our sleep schedules had drifted away and instead we passed out for a good 6 1/2 hours. Honestly, I’m not sure we could have made it much longer on the brief naps that we got on the plane.

Finally, we woke up to what sounded like explosions a little ways off. While I think a part of us panicked briefly that we had just walked into a war zone, a quick inspection out the window showed that it was just fireworks over downtown. Silly, right? Honestly, while they looked like fireworks, some of them sounded more like bombs. Guess we’re a tad used to the way these happen NYC, where you hear fireworks and they sound more like crackling and less like large booms. 

Crisis averted, so it was time to go out into the city.

Khaosan Road Market

Given that we really only have a day in Bangkok, we didn’t want to waste too much of our limited time here. Being that it was night already, we decided to head over to one of Bangkok’s famous night markets, Khaosan Road.

The market itself is a combination of bars, clubs, restaurants, food vendors, massage booths and a flea market. Lauren tells me this was a very touristy place to visit, which was evident by the gouged prices and the diversity of people there.

After treating ourselves to 1/2 hour foot massages, and a snack of some fried crickets, we sat down for dinner and a beer at one of the restaurants. Followed by some coconut ice cream, in, you guessed it, a coconut. 

So far I still don’t think the reality of where we are has hit me yet. I still feel a little like we’re just in another neighborhood in New York. Tomorrow we’re going to go visit one of the parks, before we had back to the airport and make our way to Burma. Maybe it’ll finally sink in by then.

Announcement: Drew and Lauren are getting married!

Announcement: Drew and Lauren are getting married!

On December 19th, 2013, one Andrew Clayton Butler (herein referred to as Drew), proposed marriage to one Lesley Lauren Key (herein referred to as Lauren), at the Lefrak Center in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York, USA. After an awkward, stuttered, popped question, and a few moments of disbelief, Lauren said yes.

Yes, I know, this notice is a tad bit late, but better late than never.

I proposed to Lauren while we were ice skating at the then new Lakeside ice arena in Prospect Park. I had planned on doing this for quite some time, but never could really figure out exactly the right way to do it. I knew only three things: 1) that I needed to have a ring; 2) I wanted to do it somewhere out in the world; and 3) she shouldn’t know it was coming.

The Ring

For Thanksgiving the month before we decided to do our own thing and go to Boston for an extended weekend. While the trip was cold and the food was far pricier than we had anticipated, I had something else on my mind. For at least several weeks before I had been thinking about the question of, how does one shop to find a ring, without the other person knowing? There are so many considerations.

On the obvious side, there is ring size. I had been sort of looking at some of her other rings, looking at how they fit on my pinky, but none of them were really accurately sized rings, nor was this an accurate way to measure. Then there was the question of taste. Did she even like diamonds? Lauren never really talked about them. She always talked about things that sound more anti-establishment, so how would she feel about a more conventional diamond ring?

So, while we were walking the streets of Boston, toward Boston Commons, we passed a jewelry store, and in an effort to do a little fact finding. So I popped the question, “what are your thoughts about fancy jewelry? Ya know, like diamond earrings and such?” Real smooth, I know. Lucky for me though, she didn’t suspect a thing and it started a good conversation about brands she likes and confirms the fact, that she did indeed like diamonds. What a fool I am, of course she does. Who doesn’t?

Over the next few weeks, I made a couple trips out to a local Tiffany, which she indicated was a favorite, while on my lunch break. I knew the ring I wanted to get her within 5 minutes of walking into the store the first time, but it took a few more visits for me to really pull the trigger. Part of me felt I should be shopping around a bit, checking for better prices, being a more responsible consumer overall. The other part of me knew the ring was right and I didn’t want to mess that up by going against my gut.

So I pulled the trigger. One Friday afternoon, I left work for a couple hours, went to Tiffany, spent some time with a nice gentleman, who helped me figure out exactly which Cut/Clarity/Carat/Color to buy. The only thing was, no one else knew. I didn’t tell my parents, friends, coworkers. I told no one. The reason being, I didn’t want to risk anyone letting anything slip, and in someways, I wanted to get the surprise reaction after she said yes (assuming of course she did). 

The Tiffany Classic Setting. She loved it.
The Tiffany Classic Setting. She loved it.

Somewhere Out In The World

I knew our 2-year anniversary was coming up on December 15th. I also knew that Lauren’s parents were going to be in town up until that day. I had at first thought about proposing while they were in town, but I wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted to do it. All I really knew was that I wanted it to be on or around our anniversary and out in the world, in a place where we could always remember, “this is where we got engaged.” 

Just 2 weeks before Lauren told me about an event the Prospect Park Alliance was holding for members, to celebrate the opening of the new Lefrak Center at the new Lakeside, with a few ice skating night. It was a couple days after our actual anniversary, but I knew that it was the right setting, because for the last 2-years we had been watching this new part of the park that we love get built, running by the construction site. To get to be a part of its unveiling would be great on its own. To use this as the stage for an engagement, even better.

All that was left was to even get in. 

So I joined the Prospect Park Alliance, I signed up for the event, and heard nothing back…

So I contacted them. Response: event is full. Signup closed weeks ago.

Not cool. Lauren seemed a bit disappointed, but not knowing what I was planning was a little more ready to give up on the idea than I was. I knew however that we had to go that night, so I started contacting people and asking to get added to the list. Best I could do was get added to a waiting list, so I said, “yes! Please!” And I waited.

Getting toward the deadline. Lauren was getting more and more excited about just going to see the new Whole Foods in Brooklyn (true story), but I was pushing for us to just go there and see if we could sneak in. That’s just sort of my style. Try it the right way, if that doesn’t work, sneak in the side entrance and enjoy anyway. Lucky for us though, the day before I got an email from the Alliance and we were added to the list! We were in! Yay!

She Shouldn’t Know It Is Coming

She has no idea what I'm about to do.
She has no idea what I’m about to do.

As I’ve mentioned, I wanted her to have no idea what was coming. Up until this point, we had talked about everything else, from buying and house, to traveling the world, all the way to having kids. However, we never really talked about marriage, beyond the basic, neither of us was into big weddings. In fact, the most I knew was that marriage wasn’t really anything that she ever gave much thought.

I knew that she doesn’t like to be a big center of attention, so I wanted to make sure that what I did wasn’t some big scene. Not only would that make me really uncomfortable, but I knew she might not like it very much. But this left a lot of questions, like how do you really ask a question like this. Do you steer the conversation? Do you force the moment? I was so very nervous.

We skated around for quite a while. My skates were the wrong size and my feet hurt. She was fairing a tad better than I. Overall, we were having a lot of fun, but I was having a hard time figuring out how to start the conversation and ask the question.

As the night went on, I must have seemed very strange, as I was constantly looking for moments to start the conversation, but never really finding it, until we started talking about leaving. I knew it was “now or never”, so I pulled us off to the side, and in my usual smooth way, I said, “So I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I was wondering if you wanted to marry me? I’ve got a ring!” Okay, smooth isn’t really right. Not only was what I said not the most well thought out, imagine that there was a slow, stuttered, shy tone to the whole thing. No matter how much I thought about what I was going to say, in that moment, I lost it all and just jumped.

Lucky for me, I think she was shocked enough about the whole thing, that she just said yes. I’m still waiting to see this was just a mistake caused by pure shock, or if she really meant it. Either way, I’m still pretending she meant to say it.

What’s Next

We talked about it a lot, and neither of us really wanted a big wedding. While we want to include people as much as possible, neither of us is really into the whole ceremony and reception thing. Instead, we’ve decided to somewhat elope. While we’re still going to do a city hall type ceremony in Texas with a few family members in attendance, we’ve decided to simply focus our time on focus on one of our bigger priorities which is travel. 

So, on July 25th we’re headed to Thailand to begin our whirlwind tour of southeast Asia, including Thailand, Myanmar, Bali, Singapore, and Malaysia. We’ll be doing a small private ceremony on the beaches of Ko Phi Phi, August 4th, where we will exchange rings. We’ll then be returning to the US and legalizing our marriage with a judge in Galveston, Texas on August 15th.

Thanks so much to everyone who has helped plan everything up until now and for all the help that I know is to come. We’re both very excited to open this next chapter of our lives together. We hope in the next year we’ll be able to do smaller trips where we can meet with and celebrate with our other friends, who we want to include in some way, because of how much they mean to us both.