Travel and the “Career Break”

Tausha Cowan

A few weeks ago, I attended a meet up held by Meet, Plan, Go in conjunction with AFAR. The topic of discussion: taking a “career break” to travel the world. The concept is interesting—leaving your job and life behind to experience different countries and cultures for an extended period of time. While I’m not at the point in my life where I envision myself doing this (note: I consider my career break to be when I moved to London to get my master’s degree and traveled to various countries in Europe and North Africa), it was fascinating and enlightening to meet people who had taken a career break. There were also many attendees who had not taken a break but were just as passionate about travel, incorporating it into their lives in whatever way possible.

More recently, a study came out from the Center for Economic and Policy Research that showed the United States is the only highly developed nation that does not require employers to offer paid vacation time. In Australia, businesses are required to provide employees with 35 days off. Yes, that’s right: 35 days! In several countries in Europe: 31. America: A big ole 0.

In today’s global and hyper-connected world, this strikes me as a missed opportunity for the U.S. and a big reason why the idea of a “career break” can sound so alluring. We are an overworked nation; that cannot be denied. More than that, we are a nation that is not nearly knowledgeable enough about the world. Travel is one of the ways to become more knowledgeable. As the saying goes, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” With each trip I take, I am increasingly convinced of its truth.

Several months ago, I traveled to a few countries in Asia (where I ate a lot), and on one of my flights, I ended up in conversation with the passenger next to me. At first I was more determined to sleep than speak with this person, but I soon found myself showing her pictures of my travels and hearing about her adventures roaming around Chiang Mai, Thailand via motorcycle (clearly she was the gutsier one). We also discovered a shared background in journalism—her, a newspaper journalist in Dongguan in southern China, and me, a multimedia and communications professional in New York City. I learned about what it’s like being a journalist in China (not the easiest, as one can imagine) and, in turn, she learned about working in media in New York and some of the ways in which the business environment is changing. It was, and continues to be, one of those conversations and experiences you can’t quite create when you don’t go anywhere.

As careers evolve and businesses adapt to the changing environment, global perspective is key. Thus, it is almost mind boggling to realize that not only do Americans barely travel and take vacation compared to the rest of the world, but also the vacation policies of many businesses do not encourage it. Why not change your policy, encourage employees to take time off and travel, whether domestically or internationally, and see what new perspective they bring back? I have a feeling the long term impact would more than pay off.

We Can Do Better

While most people are rehashing the best jokes from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and debating who was better—President Obama or Conan (I vote for the former)—I am still thinking about the words President Obama spoke at the end of his speech. In my opinion, these words are the highlight of the night:

“And so, these men and women should inspire all of us in this room to live up to those same standards; to be worthy of their trust; to do our jobs with the same fidelity, and the same integrity, and the same sense of purpose, and the same love of country. Because if we’re only focused on profits or ratings or polls, then we’re contributing to the cynicism that so many people feel right now.

“And so, those of us in this room tonight, we are incredibly lucky. And the fact is, we can do better—all of us. Those of us in public office, those of us in the press, those who produce entertainment for our kids, those with power, those with influence—all of us, including myself, we can strive to value those things that I suspect led most of us to do the work that we do in the first place—because we believed in something that was true, and we believed in service, and the idea that we can have a lasting, positive impact on the lives of the people around us.”

Given everything that has happened over the last few weeks, from the politics surrounding the Senate’s rejection of expanded gun background checks to the ways in which various media outlets mishandled much of the reporting from the Boston bombing, it is clear that we really can, and need to, do better. Beyond what’s been reported in the media, these words are applicable to most of our lives, whether it’s career-related or personal; we can all do better and we should strive to remember why we do what we do. If we can’t remember, then we need to re-evaluate.

As for the rest of his speech, it was hilarious. Potential side gig as a stand-up comedian? Watch it here:

My Food Adventures in Asia

Once upon a time I had a food blog, and it was great fun during the two and a half years I wrote in it. Sadly, it came to an end last year for various reasons, none of which had to do with my love of trying new foods. That love still remains and will probably never go away (in case you were wondering). So, as you can imagine, I was more than a little excited to travel to Southeast and East Asia – specifically Singapore, Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, and Hong Kong – and indulge in some tasty new dishes.

Since I like to think of myself as some sort of foodie, I was heavily anticipating and preparing for my trip by conducting my usual food research. For this occasion, I went on TripAdvisor and Chowhound, read guide books, requested information from the Hong Kong Tourism Board (true story, they were great btw), and re-watched episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover, all to give me some insight into what’s to come.

Starting off the food festivities was Singapore, a fascinating city-state with a rising amount of tourist attractions that feel culturally ambiguous but still entertaining. What interested me the most were the local spots, primarily the hawker centers. Declared a must for anyone who loves to eat, I heard about hawker centers after watching The Layover and doing some research online. These open-air food markets feature countless vendors selling a mix of different Asian cuisines at really cheap prices. It’s pretty great. My hawker center highlights include:

Fried carrot cake: Also known as chai tao kway, neither carrots nor cake are in this dish. Rather, it’s radish “cake” stir fried in egg and a sweet sauce and topped with scallions. I ate it two days in a row. Worth it.

Tausha Cowan

Roti prata: In my very trustworthy opinion, one can never go wrong with roti, and this dish just proved my point. The roti was slightly greasy but not overly so, and the curry was extremely flavorful. I wish I had gotten seconds.

Tausha Cowan

Laksa: A popular noodle dish in Singapore, I found the coconut-based curry soup to be full of just the right amount of spice with noodles that were chewy but not too soft. I also think there might have been cockles at the bottom, but I’m not positive. There was definitely some sort of mystery protein in there.

Tausha Cowan

Outside of the hawker centers, I had a few other great food experiences in Singapore:

  • Crepes at Entre-Nous Creperie: Yes, I went to a French spot, and it was delicious. Taken here by a friend who grew up in Singapore, I indulged in the recommended “entre-nous,” the homemade salted butter caramel crepe. Salty, buttery, caramel-y…and so, so good.
  • Thai at Jim Thompson: Beautiful space, solid food, and the best coconut water I have ever had. In fact, I used to hate coconut water and now I find myself buying it all the time in an attempt to find coconut water as good as what I had at Jim Thompson. I’ve yet to succeed.
  • Kaya toast: Not a restaurant, this is actually a popular snack and breakfast item, and I can see why. The toast is spread with kaya, which is a type of coconut jam, and butter. This is something I could easily eat every day but would try my very hardest not to and then would likely succumb more often than not.

Next stop: Thailand, a country that’s been on my travel bucket list for quite some time. I also happen to LOVE Thai food, so I went into that country like a food warrior ready to do battle. I have to say, though, that because of the areas I was in (Ko Phi Phi and Kata Beach in Phuket), I did not feel like I got the true Thai cuisine experience. Many of the restaurants I visited were extremely touristy and pretty much devoid of locals, which is a shame. The good news is that the food was still good so I can only imagine how the food tastes at places that locals frequent. It’s on my to-do list for my next trip to Thailand. Regardless, some highlights include:

Pad Thai at Phi Phi Corner Seafood: Literal name with really great seafood pad thai and coconut juice. I only ventured here because of my follow-the-crowd rule and, at the time, it had enough patrons in it to justify stopping by. My rule did not fail me.

Tausha Cowan

Thai pancake: So I have absolutely no idea what the name of the place is where I bought my banana and honey thai pancake, but it was a nice pick-me-up on a very rainy, muddy day in Ko Phi Phi.

Tausha Cowan

Green Curry at The Palmery Resort and Spa: Staying here was an early birthday gift to myself that I enjoyed to the fullest. Part of enjoying it to the fullest was ordering room service in the form of green curry with chicken. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much but this green curry was one of the spiciest, most delicious dishes I had during my whole trip. Two big thumbs up from me.

Tausha Cowan

I’m already looking forward to the day when I will be back in Thailand, chowing down on dishes beyond the usual suspects. Sort of like what I already do in Queens at SriPraPhai but taking it to the next level (as a food warrior should).

Last on my trip to Asia was Hong Kong. Oh, my beloved Hong Kong. I love this city, despite only being there for a little more than two days. The energy was electric and the food did not disappoint. My favorites include:

Noodles at Man Fai: Firstly, it should be noted that, similar to Phi Phi Corner Seafood, I had to do some digging on Google to find out the name of this place. Thank goodness for Google. Also similar to Phi Phi Corner Seafood, I ventured here due to my follow-the-crowd rule, which once again did not let me down. Had I known the popular dish here is cuttlefish balls, I probably would have tried it. However, it was 11pm on a Wednesday night, I had just come from the airport and I was starving. I wandered down Jardine’s Bazaar in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong and this was the first restaurant that was packed with people but still had enough space for me. I settled on some shrimp wonton noodles, slurped that thing down and then happily went on my way.

Tausha Cowan

Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan: I fully admit that, for two of my meals in Hong Kong, I completely followed Anthony Bourdain. I did some vetting online beforehand but it was half-hearted, as I already knew I was going anyway. In the case of Tim Ho Wan, which might be the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world, it was a no-brainer. I tried the glutinous rice with Chinese sausage and chicken wrapped in a lotus leaf and the baked barbecue pork buns. Both were two of the most intriguing dishes I’ve ever had, the former because I wasn’t quite sure what I was eating at the time and had to Google it later (Google FTW) and the latter because, unlike other pork buns, this had a sweet exterior that contrasted well with the savory pork interior.

Tausha Cowan

Hong Kong

Barbecue Pork Rice at Joy Hing Roasted Meat: Followed Tony B. and came here for the char siu rice, aka barbecue pork rice. It was pretty good, though not the best! But still, pretty darn good.

Hong Kong

Yakitori at Yardbird: While not the same Yardbird in Miami that’s getting all those accolades, this Yardbird is also pretty well known. A trendy Japanese spot in the Sheung Wan neighborhood, visiting this venue felt like walking into numerous Manhattan restaurants. Super chic clientele and a hip vibe greeted me, not to mention some delicious cocktails and great food. My favorites were the chicken wings with sea salt and shichimi, the chicken meatball with tare and egg yolk, and the KFC (Korean Fried Cauliflower). If nothing else, order a full serving of the cauliflower. One of the best life decisions one can ever make.

Tausha Cowan

Overall, I had a wonderful time traveling around Asia and trying different foods. There are a few dishes I wish I had tried, but all the more reason to make sure I get back there soon.

The Thing About Twitter (and Social Media)

Tausha Cowan

I will be the first to admit I used to hate Twitter. I thought it was primarily narcissistic (arguably the argument for most social media sites) and did not understand the appeal for anyone or anything outside of businesses, brands and aspiring businesses and brands. Today, I still find it pretty self-involved, but it’s also a fascinating and telling look at how society takes in information and disseminates it in both humorous and non-humorous ways.

During the 2012 election, which has been hailed as the first true digital election, countless memes and hashtags emerged, from #bindersfullofwomen to Big Bird to Clint Eastwood’s chair. While much of this social media content was and is grounded in humor, there’s also content that has been used to make a point. One of the Twitter handles I follow, @RepresentPledge (Miss Representation), is a great example of the use of social media and popular events (e.g. the Super Bowl) to convey particular messaging, in this case their mission of changing the way women and girls are represented in the media.

Whatever the goal, to make others laugh or cause them to think and take action, Twitter (and social media in general) illustrates our ability to absorb information and spit it out rapidly in various formats. The latest example to this is the election of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope to ever be elected. This historic moment generated thousands of tweets and multiple hashtags, one of which has come to be my favorite: #ReplaceMovieTitlesWithPope. Now, I don’t know who originated this hashtag, but it’s another example of how easily an event can spiral into something that takes on a separate but related life of its own. Not to mention it’s hilarious. Favorites include Pope Unchained, No Country for Old Pope, Mean Popes, and the slightly long-winded but amazing Don’t be a Pope to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.

As with much in today’s society, and particularly in social media, it already feels like it’s on to the next. We can only wait to see what the Twitterverse comes up with.

Four More Years: Inauguration Highlights

Four years ago, I, along with 1.8 million other people, descended upon Washington D.C. for the first inauguration of President Barack Obama. To say there was excitement in the air, in the world, would be an understatement. Here was the first African American President of the United States, someone who brought a new platform and new perspective, not to mention “Hope” and “Change,” to a country that was looking for something new. Walking through the streets of D.C., you could not miss the countless people beaming and bristling, ready for what’s to come.

Fast forward four years, to a world that has seen much happen. This time, close to one million gathered in a more somber nation’s capital. Gone were the ten official inaugural balls and elaborate festivities of 2009, but in the air excitement, perhaps a little more tempered, still remained. This inauguration marked another moment in history, one that I was honored to be part of.

Some inauguration highlights include:

Kicking off the festivities with OUR TIME, a non-profit that leverages the power of young voters to promote better representation of millennials in American society. Performers, including Common, John Legend, and T-Pain, took to the stage alongside members of Congress, who spoke about the importance of voting.
Tausha Cowan

Setting eyes on The Beast. Intimidating, impenetrable and just so, so cool, I loved seeing this thing head to the swearing in ceremony and then make its way back to the White House. Not to mention seeing those certain people inside, waving to the thousands of elated citizens.
Tausha Cowan

Attending the Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center. I’m not going to lie, three weeks ago I thought, oh, it’s for the best that I won’t get to attend the Inaugural Ball. It will probably be crowded and congested and too packed to have a good time. Well…somehow, all worked out well and I got to attend what ended up being an amazing event. Seeing the president and first lady dance, in addition to the countless other great performances, immediately goes up there as one of those moments you feel honored to witness.
Tausha Cowan

Now that the festivities have ended and the crowds have dissipated, I know the president has a long way to go. The last four years saw many challenges, and I know these next four years could just as well bring the same. I can only hope that those who are privileged enough to have the power to make decisions look at four more years as more opportunities to do what is right.

And on that note, I leave you with my inauguration mashup, which showcases my attempts to capture just how energetic these historic moments can be.

New Year, Somewhat New Resolutions

Tausha Cowan

It’s that time of year again. Gyms are bursting at the seams, health stores are a little busier than usual and everyone is proclaiming 2013 as “the year” they will do something or other. While I may not be declaring 2013 as “the year,” I have decided to renew a few resolutions and create some new goals, one of which is to write more often.

Once upon a time, I had a food blog (notice the obvious plug here) and, while I enjoyed it, I knew I wanted to eventually broaden my horizons. Fast forward nine months and I’m finally getting this broadened horizon thing going. Better late than never, right?

So how broad should one get? Not too broad, of course, or else this just turns into a rambling hot mess. Thus, I will try to contain myself and keep these posts relevant, thoughtful and with a hint of my humor, which I happen to think is pretty great humor.

Here’s to a new year, and making sure I stick to at least half of my resolutions.