The Start of a New Adventure (ft. Pad Thai)

Happy Honeymoon!

Josh – Chiang Mai

When I used to think of Thailand I thought of shacks, farms, elephants, and Pad Thai, of course. I always thought that not being a first-world country meant people had a terrible standard of living. Upon first glance, I believed Chiang Mai was a bit worn down; the buildings themselves were well-constructed and laid out, but it was clear that the last time they were painted was when they were built. However, getting to said buildings is an entirely different matter. When you see people constantly crossing the median, parking to get their lunch and blocking the entire lane, and trying desperately to merge onto narrow bridges that have pedestrians walking in half of the two existing lanes because it was not built with a sidewalk, it’s hard not to feel like the city has outgrown its own streets.

Chiang Mai was our first stop in Thailand and we could not have picked a better city. Chiang Mai just felt authentic. There were no sky-scrapers and the streets were full of crazy scooters that whizzed by so closely you would think you were supposed to jump on. People would walk everywhere, carrying groceries, running home after school, setting up stalls/stands/blankets on the floor. The night markets were definitely just thrown together by these everyday people, with plastic chairs and card tables being the norm as you walk through the sidewalk/parking lot/restaurant.

My favorite part of the city was how entrepreneurial the people were. Early on the morning of our second day (hooray, jet lag!), we walked through a morning market that seemed to be set up in a warehouse of some kind, everyone selling something different. There were different kinds of bananas, sweets wrapped in bamboo leaves, hot steaming things I couldn’t possibly identify (though we did try a few). Every shop you went to didn’t feel like a large chain, but rather just a mom and pop roadside stand. In Thailand, everyone is a business owner.

Overall, I felt a lack of structure in the city, seeing 4 people on a 2 person scooter really gives a sense that the city has no rules. I found it quite stressful just to cross the street, cars and scooters will not stop for pedestrians even at the crosswalks (basically, there’s never a good time to cross, so you just walk out and hope no one hits you). Drivers do not care at all about lane markings, and will frequently drive within inches of other cars, swerving through traffic.

And the temples were very peaceful, and beautifully decorated

For me, Chiang Mai will always be the place with the best Pad Thai. I am not just comparing this to American Pad Thai. Even just a few hours south, in Pattaya, the style of Pad Thai was completely different. Pattaya’s version of Pad Thai had squid and octopus, which wasn’t terrible, it was just too chewy and the flavors didn’t mesh very well. On the other hand, our favorite restaurant in Chang Mai could actually cook rice noodles, which are apparently really hard to cook correctly, as evidenced by multiple vendors in Pattaya, but…maaaan, the cooks in Chang mai can make the noodles have soooo much flavor. The texture was perfect everytime; not soft and not crunchy but just perfect (we’re not going back to Thailand JUST for the Pad Thai…that would be ridiculous…).

(We are also going back for the delicious pork we found on Koh Larn)

(and the curry….don’t forget the curry)

(we would have a picture of Pad Thai, but we could never stop ourselves from eating it long enough to take a picture, woops…just trust us, we ate A LOT)

We decided as we were planning our trip that we would go to an elephant sanctuary while in Thailand, so that’s what we did. After paying online, a taxi which was a pick-up truck with a roof over the back, picked us up from our hostel, and after driving for a couple hours on half-erroded bumpy roads, we were in the middle of nowhere, with elephants.

As soon as we arrived, we listened to a suprisingly good lecture about elephants. Our guide had a lot of interesting things to say about the ethics of the elephant industry which really challenged our opinions: first, he told us about a charity that wanted to free the elephants; the chairity ended up buying 3 elephants who were all about 40-50 years old and released them into the jungle. Which sounds wonderful in theory, but in practice those elephants were domesticated…for 40 years, and didn’t know how to survive in the jungle any more than a 40 year-old mom from the suburbs would. Simply put, he was tired of having tourists accuse him and other Thai handlers of cruelty towards the animals that had literally been in their families for generations (there’s a whole debate to be had about the ethics of elephant-handling in Thailand, but we’d rather not get into that here).

In their current “captivity” with absolutely no walls and 2,000 lbs. of free watermelon & suger cane everyday, the elephants seem to be suffering through rather well. All of the elephants we saw seemed rather happy to take a bunch of pictures with tourists, provided the tourists came armed with pockets full of watermelon (yes, we shoved a bunch of watermelon into our pockets because that’s how you make friends). We did get quite a few nice pictures of us with the elephants (see above), but the most memorable part was the mud pit. The rest of our group emerged from the mud hole with mud on their fingers and between their toes, but we were determined to make the most of the “natural sunscreen” (“spf 1000!” said one of the guides xD). After a short mud fight, one of the Elephant trainers noticed a spot on me that didn’t have mud, my back. He grabbed a handful of the questionable brown mixture found at the floor of the pool, (after watching them grab the floating elephant poops out of the water with their hands I had realised too late what we had stepped into) and said in a thick Thai accent “Don’t move. Or you won’t be beautiful!” I never saw what he drew on my back, but from what Rebeccah told me it was of two elephants(and that we shouldn’t show grandma). Then we washed off in the river which was WAY colder than I expected (I think the guide’s favorite moment is the scream he gets when he dumps a bucket over the head of an unsuspecting tourist).

So my take aways from the city: eat Pad Thai, drive into the mountains to see elephants, and the buildings need paint. I really would love to go back (“not JUST for Pad Thai…but that MIGHT be a factor…”-Rebeccah) and considering we would only spend 60 baht for an amazing plate of Pad Thai (about $2) It will not be hard to budget another trip in the future.

Rebeccah – Pattaya

Aaaaand then, we flew to Pattaya….yup.

Where do I even begin with this city? Well, we took a taxi from Utapau Airport (45ish minutes) to get to the city, and can I just say…drivers are nuts in Thailand. We were speeding along at what felt like 60mph down single lane roads, swerving wildly past scooters, narrowly missing signs and pedestrians, and sometimes going off-road with 2 tires because the road wasn’t wide enough to allow another car to pass going the other way. If we were expecting a highway to lead from the airport to the city….just no.

So, we arrived at our hotel, everything seemed nice, the staff spoke English well enough and showed us our room, but then…we went out to the street with all the restaurants they recommended. Let me just say, I wasn’t expecting Pattaya to be a super ritzy city, and it isn’t a very pretty city
in…pretty much any way, but we discovered why Pattaya would be my least favorite city ever when we got to that street. We started walking along, trying to find a place to eat…and there were lots of options. Steak, hamburgers, McDonalds, mexican food…lots of options. However, this is
Thailand. And not only was there not a SINGLE restaurant serving Thai food on this street. ALL of the menus were 100% in English. Not only that, but the patrons were nearly all white, specifically, white men in their 50s and 60s…many with 20-something year-old Thai women. Yikes.

The streets of Pattaya are dirty, the air stinks of pollution, the cracked and neglected sidewalks are SOMETIMES wide enough for 1 person, though often crowded with stuff from shops overflowing onto them. And even though we were not actually in the red light district (that was 3 streets over, next to the nasty, litter-encrusted beach), the feeling of seediness and exploitation could be felt in every English sign catering to tourists, every “massage parlour” we passed. It just felt like the culture of Thailand had been distilled and marketed to the point where it was a caricature of itself.

So, we spent a lot of our time in our hostel in this city, playing video games, which I can’t say I minded. xp

Our best experience by FAR in Pattaya was the morning we took the earliest ferry to the nearby island of Koh Larn. The ferry was pretty pleasant at first, of course, it was hot, even at 7 in the morning but the breeze off of the ocean was nice. Then…we kinda sailed into a storm. xp There were 2
decks on our ferry, luckily we were on the upper one when the ferry started to rock crazily and rain and seawater started spraying wildly into our previously calm seating area. (There were no solid walls on the seating areas, just glassless windows that had tarps that could cover the gaps) I guess the lower area got it worse than we did, because several other passengers escaped up to our deck (I was literally dripping with water as it was). xD

Once we arrived at the port in Koh Larn, the rain still hadn’t let up, so we had to kinda make a run for it to a covered area…not that it mattered, since we were already drenched anyway. It didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon, so we decided to just go ahead and start our walk to Monkey Beach (we didn’t see any monkeys, but there were nearly a dozen dogs just chilling there). There were motorcycle taxis, but the walk was only half an hour or so it just seemed silly to take one.

We arrived at the beach early enough that we were literally the only tourists there (well, us and like 2 others) for nearly 2 hours. The rain had let up by that point and the weather was AWESOME. It was warm, but not hot, the water was pleasant, the beach was beautiful, and it had DOGS. WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED?!

Definitely the highlight of our trip. I would say that the best part about Pattaya was leaving it, but I think Koh Larn might have been worth it. xp

Learning to fear

Terror, anxiety, isolation, this is what I am supposed to feel, or at least what I have felt in the past. After I got accepted to join a World Class Drum and Bugle Corps two years ago, I believed I wasn’t ready, that I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough, that I wasn’t strong enough, and that I would fall hard on my face and quit in the middle of our tour season. My thoughts consumed me and my anxiety turned into a deep regret toward the very thing I had just a few days prior been so passionate about. I told a few of my friends that I wasn’t ready, and even though their encouraging words came warmer and more sincere than expected, I felt worse and worse about the contract I had signed. It was not until I told one of my coaches at the time, Daniel, that I heard someone say “You’re not ready.” With such a profound response, I didn’t know what to say, so he continued, “you will only be ready to begin after you are done.” This really calmed me. I believe that I have the power to change and control every aspect of my life, and for this situation I still believed it true. I failed to see how impractical it would be for me to be fully prepared.

Currently, my wife and I are moving to Taiwan. With all the uncertainty, I routinely feel the urge to prepare, learn more Chinese, re-pack my suitcase, and research more and more online. In taking all of these actions, the younger me would be feeling the anxiety from the reality sinking in, but I feel totally at peace because there is a reason we are going: we want to learn. And, if we are going to learn, we can’t already know how to do everything. The anticipation we are feeling is not anxiety, nor does it mean we are taking a big risk and that we need to change our direction, but rather that we are right on track to learn something new.

I am not worried about our lives in the short-term because I realize we must put ourselves into new situations if we want to continue our personal development. This move is not just a move away from my home-town, but the town I imagined I would live in for the rest of my life. I am moving away from my hopes of staying in the same country. What terrifies me is that my view of what makes someone successful has changed. My idea of success is no longer just building a dream home, and having a wonderful career. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still hoping for these things, but I am seeing that there are far more paths to success and the definition of success is much broader than I had realized. Moving to a foreign country and learning a second language is a challenge I never thought would be worth the effort, but putting less restrictions on my life and what I can do will allow for not only more paths to success but also a greater chance of achieving it.

The scariest part of moving abroad is not the opportunity cost, or the idea of what we are leaving behind; I am scared because I will be having more new experiences in the next three months than I have up to this point in my life. My problems lie in deciding which of the many opportunities I want to take, and trying to not regret the doors I must close along the way. I truly believe that Taiwan is going to be the best place for me to grow personally and professionally; however, I have never had so many choices with unknown outcomes and all I can hope is that we can find that path to success.

-Josh

I Can Only Conclude that I’m Paying Off Karma at a Vastly Accelerated Rate

Alriiiiiight, I’m finally finishing my account of my three weeks in China.  From Guilin, we caught a bus to Fenghuang Gucheng, a destination I’d never heard of, but is apparently a very popular tourist destination(for Chinese people) in China (thaaaaat most people go to by tour bus apparently because I think we were the only two people on that six-hour bus and there was only one bus leaving Guilin to go there each day).

 

We had to walk a long way from the bus station to find our hostel and got lost a couple of times, but we finally found our hostel.  Now, this hostel is easily the shadiest and least appealing hostel I’ve ever stayed in(it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say this place was kind of a shit-hole).  We rented a small room in basically the back of a karaoke bar.  While it was right in the middle of the action and right on the water (as you can tell by the picture, Fenghuang is famous for its riverwalk)….it was right in the middle of the action and right on the water.  The bar made a ton of noise and our room was overlooking a busy street with a lot of other nightclubs, street vendors, etc., so it’s a good thing we aren’t light sleepers.  The beds were hard(like, I’m sleeping on a plank of wood hard), we had to pay extra for any air conditioning, and the bathroom…*shudders* Let’s just say I didn’t realize that a toilet and a shower drain could be one and the same.  This place didn’t ruin our experience in Fenghuang by any means, but man it was nasty.

Alright, complaining over.

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Fenghuang is by far the most touristy city I have ever been to.  I wonder if anyone actually lives there. I only saw two other western tourists in my 4…5? days there, but judging by all of the street vendors and hawkers, at least 70-80% of the people I saw walking the streets must have been tourists.  Speaking of which, it was kind of cramped, but I thought the streets of Fenghuang were really awesome.  There were a few wide avenues that cars could navigate, but the vast majority of them were like thin little stone alleyways with tunnels and stairs (I was always too busy getting smushed to take pictures unfortunately xp) and food and souvenir vendors packed into every square inch along them.  Some went along the river, and it was beautiful (mosquitoes were plentiful of course, but not noticeably worse than anywhere else I went in China).

 

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We didn’t do anything special in Fenghuang really, we mostly just walked the streets trying food and exploring (partly because it was so hot that we spent a decent amount of time in the hostel despite it being nasty xp).  Night was the best with crazy music and the river is beautiful at night.  The good part about our hostel being crazy loud anyway is that we could loudly sing along to the songs they were playing outside on the street and no one cared, so we had great freestyle karaoke in our room some nights xD (I’ve learned that apparently very few good Cantonese songs have come out since the 80s, so they play the same like 15 everywhere you go.  I got okay at singing a few, even if Qian laughed at my accent xp).

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I just had to share this Engrish I saw there.  There were more signs like this that said the same thing in Chinese, but the English was always different.  I wish I’d taken pictures of more than one. xp

I did however drink the tap water here (which is a no no in China, but I asked Qian and he said it was okay….we later discovered that he hadn’t understood my question) which may have led to my….issues in our next big city.

Anyway, next we took a 5-hour bus to Changsha (the nearest city with an airport) and spent 2 nights there.  We didn’t do much, but we played hide and seek at a park nearby (I won xp), ate at Pizza Hut (which is apparently the Chinese equivalent of P.F. Chang’s; seriously, we had a waiter come and cut our pizza for us….and they only offered like 4 pizzas; the majority of the THICK TABBED MENU was pasta and steak O.o), and went to see a movie.  Qian thought it was going to have English subtitles (not sure why…), but when it didn’t, we left the theater and went to watch the screening of Zootopia with Chinese subtitles they were having outside the mall (sitting on itty bitty plastic chairs with the rest of the small children xD).  For real though, those unexpected activities are the beeeeest. 😀

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Then we flew to Dali, my most anticipated city of this whole trip.  Dali is fairly close (relatively) to Myanmar, so it has veeeery different culture to the rest of China.  It’s much drier and colder there as well, so it felt more like Colorado to me (yay, mountains! And actual temperature variation, YESSSSSS).  It was beautiful, the temples were gorgeous, the weather was great, we got to ride on a double bicycle (I’ll explain later…).

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Buuuuut, now we get to why this post has the title that it does.  While in Dali, we managed to catch possibly every ailment under the sun.  Probably something to do with that little water mishap….To spare you the details, I’ll just say that we were very weak and taking turns in the bathroom for various reasons.  I really really liked Dali with its awesome architecture, buses (yes, I liked the buses; they were cool, okay? Kinda reminded me of the streetcars in Nagasaki), and streets (streets for just walking with street vendors and streets for cars and buses with a small waterway running down both sides), but I think that city hated me.

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After a day or two staying inside to recover, we decided we still needed to see stuff, so we went out (in hindsight very glad we went out and took pictures and stuff, but man we were miserable).  We saw the three pagodas of Dali (what it’s most famous for, tourism-wise) and we rode this double bicycle thing to a lake a few kilometers away.  Oh, and Qian made I think my favorite English mistake I’ve ever heard.  He said “Look at all those terrorists!” when we went to see the pagodas.  Oh my god, I was laughing so hard.  He fixed it to “tourists” like he meant, but it was too late, I was gone xD.

The bicycles weren’t like you’d expect; this contraption was build like a man-powered, very slow car.  Qian decided he’d drive…until he nearly drove us straight into oncoming traffic.  He said it was really hard, but miraculously, once I took the wheel, we were suddenly capable of going in a straight line.  Turns out, he’s better at bicycles, but since this thing was built like a four-wheeler, I was far more qualified (he’s never driven a car before).  On the way back, he steered us for a while, but after nearly hitting a couple of old ladies and then nearly driving into the ditch, I figured it was safer if I drove. xD

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I didn’t fully recover from being sick until we got to Thailand, but that’s a tale for another day. 😉

I Suggest You Move Your Eyes Somewhere Else…While You Still Have Them

If you couldn’t tell by the title, I got pretty fed up with all the stares I got in China.  It was less of the Japanese-style staring (the “ooooh, I wonder where she’s from; is she a teacher?”) and more of the “hey, look at the monkey, it talks” sort of staring.  I legitimately had men staring at me (not handsome young men either, which I may not have minded as much 😉 ) for a good ten seconds, with no shame whatsoever, saying nothing, and continuing about their day MANY times each day.  Qian couldn’t understand why it upset me, but I think he got it when I asked him if I should start charging admission. (Aaaaand, I may have dressed him in my sarong [that doubles as a dress] and made him walk through the common room of our hostel to do laundry so that he’d understand how it feels to be stared at like…well…like a man in a dress xp; he made me promise that if he did it, I wasn’t allowed to complain about getting stared at anymore….that didn’t last long xp)

Anyway, there was LOOOTS of staring directed at me in Guilin…and Fenghuang….and Changsha…and Dali….so..basically every city that’s not Shanghai.  That’s why I started off this post with that, but anyway, enough with the nitpicking, let’s talk Guilin!

 

So, Guilin is one of the most famous tourist cities in China due to its amazing scenery.  It’s located on the Li River and is surrounded by these tall spire-like mountains that are covered in trees.  Honestly, this was my favorite place that we visited in China, despite the fact that my first though when we landed and were trying to negotiate our way to our hostel at like 10pm was “This is a SMALL city?”  Once we found our hostel (down a long road that led through several tunnels and was largely overshadowed by HUGE trees), we spent most of our time in Guilin in the quieter parts of town, which I was a big fan of.

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There was a large street market nearby as well as a shopping center/historic site (I couldn’t really figure out what it was supposed to be, but it was cool).

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Anyway, so our first day here we spent just lounging around the hostel and planning what we’d do for the rest of our 5-day stay in Guilin.  Qian brought me breakfast (he’s a morning person…and I was in the girl’s dorm, so he couldn’t wake me up early xp); it was some kind of really gooey steamed things made out of rice flour and corn flour.  They were pretty good actually, but kinda weird.  I’ll have to ask him what those are called someday.  He told me the names of so many foods in Chinese that I have zero retention of.

But seriously, in our hostel, there was this suuuuper cute kitten…which I spent the better part of our first day there cuddling.  It was really sleepy all the time (not exactly travel relevant, but my god was it cute).

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Okay, back on track. xp  Our second day in Guilin, we went hiking at a “national” (I think?) park nearby which led into the mountains.  We had to take this really small bumpy bus to get there that seated maybe 7 people and cost about 15 cents (1 yuan) to ride.  The locals were very confused by our presence, but luckily Qian was there to talk to the driver and find out that the last bus back to town was at 5pm (missing that would reeeeally suck).

So, we set off into the mountains at about 1ish…this park had no maps or anything official like that (despite having a security guard and a gate *shrugs*), so we were kinda wingin’ it at this point.  It was a long, sweaty hike, with no end in sight, but we took to singing verses of songs we knew to pass the time, which was a lot of fun.  In the end, we found a group of wild cows near the top of a ridge we climbed to, which was rather odd…

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Aaaaaand then we went back with plenty of time to make the bus…and get eaten alive by mosquitos (I believe my record is 32 bites at one time…not a record I’m eager to break).

 

So, the following day, we decided to take a boat down the river 2-3 hours to reach the town of Yangshuo.  In this case, the journey is more the objective than the destination since the views from the boat were fabulous.

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Yangshuo was fine, but not all that exciting.  We walked around and listened to some old people playing instruments and singing in the park, then we bought some interesting fruit and sat to eat it while we waited for the bus back to Guilin (I told Qian that I was basically going to buy and try any fruit I had never seen/eaten before…and we did xp).  We (meaning Qian, our only Mandarin speaker xD) organized our bus back through this tour company near the pier, so when the time came for us to leave, I learned that the bus was actually not coming to where we were, we were to get in an extremely crowded van to get to the bus.  I think there were at least 12? people sitting in the back with me where there were only about 8 seats…with our luggage.  As per usual, I had no idea what was happening. (Qian’s English is pretty good, but he can’t always translate accurately and quickly enough for me to actually understand what’s going on, so I just started doing what he told me to and asking whys later).  We took our 5-6 hour bus ride back to Guilin, making plans for our last days.

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The next day, we decided to go to the caverns just north of Guilin (and I finally caught Qian’s cold, so we had to pack our stockpile of tissues).  “We”(*cough* Qian *cough*) got lost a couple of times trying to find our bus, but it all worked out.  The caverns themselves were extremely beautiful and I was super happy to get out of the heat (the temps in Guilin this while time were like 85-90 degrees, even at night with nasty humidity; I just grew accustomed to always being at least mildly sweaty).  I got a few pretty great pictures, too:

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On our way out, we bought some sort of Chinese dessert? Snack?  Honestly, I have no idea.  It was some kind of gelatin that they cut and poured a Chinese brand of soda over, which we ate with a spoon.  It was strange, but not bad.  While we were eating, a woman approached us and asked if we wanted to go pole rafting (it was one of the touristy activities you could do there) and neither of us had ever done it, so we said yes.  It was remarkably hard to steer and neither of us got any good at it.  It took all our concentration to avoid collisions….and then the rain came.  We had to pole our way to shore as quickly as possible (which is not fast; for us anyway xD) as the heavens opened up on us.

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(Attractive as always, I know 😉 )

After that, we spent our last day exploring the town and booking our bus tickets to Fenghuang.  (The next post; gotta build suspense you know xp)

Take care, guys! ❤

 

Normal Chaos and Emotional High

Well, it haaaas been a long while hasn’t it?  I thought I’d take this brief break between crazy hectic weeks here to finish talking about my trip to Korea.  That was already 3 months ago, but oh well.

 

So, after that super busy day, we spent about half the rest of the week getting sick (Paige was sick, not me, but I didn’t want to go out without her) and staying in the hostel to play a new game we found, but honestly, that wasn’t so bad.  The lady who ran our hostel was super nice and we ate lunch with her, the staff, and a few of the other people staying at the hostel a couple of times (deliiiicious authentic Korean food; spicy as hell, but sooo worth it….also snails.  That was weird) as well as playing Jenga to decide who had to do the dishes.

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Bibimbap with our Hostesses

 

Near the end of the week, Paige and I decided to go out to a street market.  We actually found one that was different from the one we were searching for, but it was awesome anyway. xp

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The market stretched for a good 10-15 minute walk in every direction and there were so many cheap things there.  If I lived in Korea, I know where I’d go for my shopping. xD  I picked up some earrings for $2 a pair and a lovely scarf for about $4 (didn’t want to get anything big since I still needed to fit everything in my backpack to take carry-on back to Japan xp)  We found some deliiicious street food, too. There were so many options (also, apparently grilled cheese is a thing?  Not like the sandwich grilled cheese, but like cheese cubes on a stick thrown on the grill. O.o  The lines for those were always long, so we didn’t try it, but I was like (whaaaat?”), but we chose a couple that looked especially good.

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Mine was a really famous spicy rice cake thing called tteokbokki (super tasty, but it buuuurns) and Paige’s was some spicy meat on a stick.  Mine was way spicier than Paige’s, so I tried hers, told her that hers was spicier and tricked her into eating mine. xD  Friendship at its finest.

Aaaand then we went back to the hostel.  That night, there were a lot of guests hanging out in the common room, so we all got to talking….and the cards came out.  A couple of Americans taught us how to play “Presidents” (it’s basically “Deuces” but with meaner rules), but then a guy from Saudi Arabia taught us how to play “Shithead” instead.  Needless to say that was a crowd favorite. xD  About eight of us played and it was awesome…sometime after 3am and however many dozen games, we decided it was probably time to stop. Didn’t help that some people turned it into a drinking game.  I didn’t drink (because I prefer not drinking cat piss for the hell of it), but it was a ton of fun anyway.

 

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The next day, Paige and I went to the aquarium…she taught me things about shark anatomy that I did NOT need to know, and I found this little gem:

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Not exactly the relaxed tone this artist was going for.

Paige actually got really annoyed at me about this because this was on a pillar where the picture changed every 30 seconds or so in a cycle, but I missed it the first and second (I didn’t realize that my camera wasn’t on…whoops xD) time it came around and insisted we wait so that I could get a picture the third time.  Woooorth it ^_^

On our way out, we saw a theater, so we decided to go see Deadpool (it hadn’t come out in Japan yet).  I hadn’t tried to buy a ticket in Korea before either, so we were a little nervous, but the lady at the counter spoke pretty good English, so all was good.

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After Paige got (mostly) better, we went out to see Changdeokgung Palace, one of the biggest and most famous palaces in Seoul.  The architecture was amazing and colorful and beautiful (despite the dead trees because it was winter xp).  It was almost closing time, too, so the place was mostly deserted.  There’s nothing quite like wandering alone in a historical monument to make you feel the history.

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Changdeokgung Main Walk

The next day, I saw Paige off and she went back to America.  It was short, but I know we’ll do it again.  Love you, Paige! ❤

 

It’s Been a Fun Ride So Far

I’m in Beppu!  Woo!  I’m finally getting to do a little more travelling now that I’m on Spring Break for like two months.  Beppu is famous for its hot springs or onsen and they’re EVERYWHERE here. (Please, no one freak out about the picture for this post.  All you can really see is my back anyway, nothing scandalous.  I sent it to mom and she told Rachel, “hey, your sister sent us a picture of her naked.” -.-)  Steam actually just leaks from vents in the street here because there is so much natural hot water under the ground pretty much everywhere here.

On my first night in Beppu, I just kinda wandered around until I found my hostel (with my unnecessarily heavy backpack…in the dark), but once I got here (yup, I’m still in that hostel, hi!) I met these two very nice guys in the common room.  One of them was from Australia and the other one was from Germany.  We had a nice conversation and got to know each other a little.  Then the Australian guy asked if we wanted to go hiking with him the next day.  I had no better plans, so I said sure (he actually wanted to hike up to some natural hot springs, but when the German guy said he was busy, it was hilarious to see him try REALLY hard to phrase his invitation so it didn’t sound like “hey we should go hiking so I can see you naked” xD).  Honestly, I’m very relaxed about that kind of thing and I don’t really care (plus this is Japan…onsen culture anyone?).  So, the next day we headed out to go hike up to these hot springs in the middle of nowhere.  Like seriously:

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It took us maybe an hour to get out there by bus and walking, but there were actually three hot springs we were looking at going to.  Hoooowever, there was this slightly worrying scene on the way there…:

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*gulp*  We also passed a police car on our way in.  Not exactly promising, but we tried to stay optimistic. xp

So we went up to the first hot springs location he had marked on his map, but there was a fence and it said “temporarily closed.”  At that point we were like, “no, yup, we are going to be murdered.”  But we really didn’t want to go back without finding the hot springs, so we headed for the second one on the map.  On the way there, we found this really cool abandoned dam (at least that’s what I think it was, whatever, it was like 50 feet high and we could sit on it, so that was pretty cool).

Beppu bridge

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It doesn’t look that high in the pictures, but trust me, it was high up.  Anyway, we kept hiking and ran into an old man walking down the hill.  I asked him in Japanese if the hot springs over here were still open since the other one had been closed and he answered me in English.  It was kinda weird O.o.  (That’s never happened to me in Nagasaki, ever).

So, we finally found the hot springs! Woo!  But there was another old man at the springs and he wanted to chat (I think he smelled the Japanese language ability on me or something, because he completely ignored my companion, who speaks no Japanese beyond konnichiwa), so I had to stop and chat with him for like ten minutes while the Australian guy just stood there in awkward and confused silence (mostly the old guy went on about politics and terrorism in the west and how Japan is such a peaceful, nice country, so no wonder people are visiting from all over the world to escape…yeah, I mostly just nodded and said “Is that so?” a lot).

Then he left, so we actually got to enjoy the hot springs.  I basically just looked over at the Australian guy and said “I won’t make this weird if you don’t make this weird.”  He agreed and we stripped and got in the hot water.  It was pretty cold out, so the hot water felt amazing.

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Needless to say, we both took a lot of pictures.  Then we took turns taking pictures of each other, warning each other if the photos were R-rated or not. xp  I know people are really weird about it in America and most Western countries, but being naked with a stranger was really not an issue.  I had no interest in him, he had no interest in me; we just sat in the water (often sitting on the edge with just our feet in the water because we kept getting overheated xp) talking and enjoying the day for like two hours.  It was one of my best experiences travelling so far just because it was such a spontaneous thing and I really don’t like doing the whole touristy thing, so getting off the beaten track was amazing and relaxing and fun.

After that, we hiked back down and went home.  The next day, the German guy joined us for some karaoke. For the first time, I got to be the one to be the Japanese translator for karaoke (in Nagasaki, I was usually with a group that had one or more people who are better at Japanese than me, so I never really did that xD).  I felt pretty awesome. xp  We had a ton of fun and I learned a German karaoke song that apparently will make me the life of the party if I go to karaoke with German people in the future. xp  It’s called “Moskau.” (yes, that is just “Moscow” but with German spelling.)

After that they both moved on to other cities for their travels and I spent the rest of the week as a dedicated introvert.  I just ate konbini food (basically convenience store tv dinners) for most of the week and hid in my room playing games.  Hey, I gotta store up my energy for touristing with Paige and my family in the next few weeks. xp  Not the most exciting travel, but I enjoyed it.

Today was my last full day in Beppu, so I went out and just walked around mostly.  I found a nice park and read there for a while (and also took some pictures xp):

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Then I walked until I walked by a place that smelled good and went inside (that’s how you find the best food; you just walk until you find a place that calls to you xp).  The food was pretty good, I have to say (you can’t go wrong with bacon):

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Then I headed down to the beach.  On a clear day, you can see Shikoku (one of the other main islands of Japan; this one is Kyushu) from Beppu, but I couldn’t see it today.

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The water was pretty though and I enjoyed walking through the city at night.  There were two guys playing music in an underpass that connects the two sides of the highway, so I gave them some yen and stopped to listen for a while.  Sometimes it’s nice to just have some nice slow-paced travel with no touristy stuff. =)

Well, I’m off to Fukuoka tomorrow.  First time on a train by myself, we’ll see how it goes. xp  Wish me luck! ❤

Quick Update

Alrighty, confession time.  I know I haven’t been updating this blog for almost two months now, but I plan to catch up soon (hopefully xp).

First, the reason I’ve been so behind:  School (I never thought it was possible to feel so accomplished and so stupid at the same time -.-) As I turned in a test, the teacher just looked at how “little” I had written (my handwriting’s small, what?) and just said “Japanese is hard, isn’t it?” (in Japanese).  You have no idea how badly I wanted to shout “MY HANDWRITING IS SMALL, BUT I WROTE A DAMN GOOD ESSAY. DO NOT PATRONIZE ME, SIR.”  Instead I said “yes, I suppose it is” like a good little student. Grrrr….

Anyway, not to ramble too much about personal stuff, I’ll be writing more posts about my travel and school and stuff soon now that I have more free time.  Take care everybody! ❤

Perhaps it’s Something I Said?

About a week ago, I did a one-day job for the city of Nagasaki tourism…association? department?  Look, it was really cool whatever it was.  Aaaaand I ended up on tv, but I’ll get to that in a minute. xp

 

My school sent out an application for a job “accepting 3 students from Gaidai (my university; aka “Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies”) from intermediate or advanced Japanese levels.”  I had no idea what it was at first, but I signed up anyway.  It turns out that the city of Nagasaki is hoping to host training camps for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, so they’re expecting a huge surplus in tourists in coming years.  Therefore, I was part of a group of 12 foreign exchange students (English-speaking, Korean-speaking, and Chinese-speaking) who were sent out to evaluate whether or not there was enough of our respective languages to be understood by tourists from our respective countries (also checking for mistakes and providing suggestions to improve the sites in general) at tourist sites around Nagasaki.

We all met up at Nagasaki Station (about 20 minutes from my house by streetcar; and by that I actually mean 35 minutes because it takes me 15 to walk to the streetcar stop first xp) in one big group (Emily and Nick also came from Gaidai).  However, we almost immediately split into two groups (I also figured out why they insisted only higher level Japanese students could do this job; the explanations were entirely in Japanese and the coordinator didn’t speak English at all, in fact, she was Chinese).  I was part of a group with a Korean student (his name was Yan), two Taiwanese students (the guy’s name was “John” or Xiao Yu Wen, but I didn’t catch the girl’s name), and two Chinese students (Wang Chen and Fei Cuixia) who were all from Chodai (aka”Nagasaki University”).

It was a crazy hectic but really fun day.  I really hit it off with Fei as well.  She spoke Japanese, English, and Chinese, so we had a ton of fun talking and joking with each other the whole time.  (I thought it was going to be a really serious job, but even the coordinator didn’t care that we were goofing around as long as we were taking notes about the places we were going to).  She’s the first person I’ve talked to who really doesn’t mind if I start my sentence in English and switch to Japanese halfway through or vice versa (which is good, because I accidentally do that a lot now xD).  She even taught me a little Chinese.  We wanted to fit three languages into one sentence, so we said, “たぶん一起hangout” or “tabun yiqi hangout” which means “probably (Japanese) together (Chinese) hangout (English, obviously xp).”  Then we bonded over lunch because we both ordered Indian food that was way too spicy for us and shared a huge pitcher of water and a package of tissues.  (I was wondering the whole time if she is from the same place as Ryou though because the resemblance between their reactions and facial expressions is uncanny O.o;  she almost seemed like a female Ryou).

Anyway, so we went around Glover Garden and Kosuda Dock (I think that’s what it was called) to check the availability of English, Chinese, and Korean.  Glover Garden was fine, I had been there before, but there really isn’t much English.  Kosuda was more of a problem.  When we arrived there, we couldn’t even find it at first, even our coordinator didn’t know where we were going.  Once we actually found it, there was a tv crew waiting for us.  Oh dear. O.O(In our group, there were six people; out of us, the Korean student was the best at Japanese, I was second best and everyone else was at more or less the same level….except for Wang Chen, who barely spoke any Japanese at all).  So, there was basically nothing at this dock except a sign that said something to the effect of “use this wi-fi hotspot.”…..and that’s it.  All the information about why this place is important was provided through a digital pamphlet kinda thing.  It was reeeeally weird though.  The tv people interviewed the Korean guy….then they came over to me with one of those microphones that they dangle above you while you talk…and asked me what I thought about the digital pamphlet and the “future of tourism”  (all in Japanese of course).  I don’t even have a phone…I was borrowing Fei’s phone, and I had no idea what the place we were at even was…That was fun, being recorded while desperately trying to read some of the information quickly so I could give a halfway intelligible response.  I think I just rambled something about how technology is moving forward and that kind of digital pamphlet was useful for the future and it was easy to use and understand and stuff…(when I told Okaasan that I had been interviewed when I got home, she immediately turned on the tv, and lo and behold, about ten minutes later I appeared on Japanese tv for about 20 seconds with subtitles and everything [everyone, even news casters and interviewees are always given Japanese subtitles while they speak Japanese]).  Fei thought it was hilarious.

After that, we all went back to an office building together to have a meeting where each of our two groups gave a presentation to everyone about our findings and suggestions.  The Korean guy and I were the only ones who knew enough Japanese to give an unscripted presentation in it, so we did ours together.  But (this is where things got interesting) here was the breakdown of our group: there was Yan who spoke Japanese and Korean; “John” who spoke Chinese, English, and Japanese; the taiwanese girl who spoke Chinese and Japanese; Fei who spoke Chinese, English, and Japanese; Wang Chen who spoke Chinese and English; and me who speaks Japanese and English.  So, here’s the problem: Fei, John, and Wang Chen’s English was much better than their Japanese, but the Korean guy (you know, the most skilled Japanese-speaker in our group) only spoke Korean and Japanese, so during the presentation, they would tell me what they wanted to add in English and I would have to try to explain it in Japanese to the Korean guy so he could address the room with the more formal, accurate version of what I was trying to say (my Japanese is mostly casual Japanese and I don’t know a lot of really big words).  This is all happening while we’re standing in front of an audience which is basically like a corporate meeting, by the way.  My brain was so confused from hearing English and speaking in Japanese that once when Wang Chen said something for me to relay from English to Japanese for the Korean guy, I turned to the Korean guy and started my sentence with “The…” (which is really obviously English) and everyone burst into laughter.

Yup.  That was embarrassing.

And of course, a few of my classmates from school….and my teacher also saw me in my brief appearance on tv….the embarrassment continues… (I think one of my classmates actually filmed it. O.O

Overall, it was a ton of fun  and a good experience though.  I can safely say that that was one of my favorite days I’ve had here so far.  I felt like I had come so far with my Japanese (I was so proud that I understood practically everything that was said =) ) and I was actually doing a job here and doing it well.  Hooray for finally feeling like an adult!

Have a great Christmas everyone! ❤

I Prefer to Be Only Slightly Insane…

This post is just another sort of status update.  This one I’m dedicating to talking about my host family.

I want to start off by saying that I understand waaaaaaay more now than I did at first.  Okaasan can be pretty difficult to understand sometimes, but that’s just because she uses a lot of dialectal words and speaks really fast…and uses lots of big words I don’t know…However, usually I end up understanding what she’s talking about based on context and stuff, so I understand about 60-70% of what she says.  Everyone else is way easier, so I understand about 80-90% usually.  (Outside the family…that’s a different story however…).  Anyway, we end up talking for hours almost every night and I have to say that as far as learning the language goes, nothing beats a host family.  Even when I’m tired and don’t feel like speaking Japanese, I have to;  if I don’t, I might as well not speak at all because they don’t understand English at all.

At first, I was like “Oh god, what…I…uh….words….and stuff.” (In Japanese of course, because I’m sophisticated and stuff…I can make a fool of myself in two languages now!  Aren’t you proud of me?)  But I kept talking anyway and now I can hold a relatively intelligent conversation.  I’m sure I still sound like I’m 5, but as long as we understand each other, I think it’s fine…  I actually take notes on the new words that I hear when we talk so I can look them up later (unless it’s a difficult word, then I ask them to explain it in simpler Japanese…which sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes sense, I promise; for example “bus station”[kind of hard word] becomes “the place where people get on and off the bus,” but if I don’t know the word for “place”…how are they going to explain that?).

Anyway, onto more detailed stuff about my family members!

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The woman in this picture is Okaasan (and me, obviously).  I’ll explain the kimonos another time…  Okaasan is seriously like a second mom to me.  She looks serious in this picture, but she is always laughing and smiling; she has a great sense of humor and I always seem to be able to make her laugh.  One of our running jokes is that Okaasan is the “nicest person” because one night, Neesan did something mean and blamed it on Okaasan, but Okaasan overheard her and came back into the room, scoffing “Okaasan wa ichiban yasashii hito desu yo. Shiteiru yo ne” which means (essentially) “Everyone knows I’m THE nicest person.”  So now whenever she does something ‘mean’ like tickling me while I couldn’t see her (she did this recently and blamed it on Neesan, who was lying on top of me at the time), I say “Okaasan ga ichiban yasashii hito to omotta noni…” which means “Even though I thought Okaasan was THE nicest person (she would do something so mean).” xD  I love her to death and I don’t know what I’d do without her (and her AMAZING cooking).

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These next pictures are of Takumi-kun (I know he looks like he’s like 12, but he’s 18, I swear).  He is super sweet and we have fun with each other all the time.  Because he’s close to my age, I can be waaay more informal with him (and not feel bad about it).  For example, a few nights ago, we were playing a video game together and he was mocking me for getting a mediocre score (it was a rhythm game) after I said that I was good at games, so I had him try it and he repeatedly lost to his own high score, so I kept laughing at him.  At dinner, he suddenly said “poison!” in English while I was drinking and I was so surprised that I nearly spat out my tea.  He looked very pleased with himself, so when he was leaving that night, I said “Mata konaide ne” which means “Don’t come again,” but he said “Mata ashita kuru yo” which means “I’ll be here tomorrow” -.- Then he smirked and left.  Cheeky highschoolers these days. *shakes head*

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You can’t really see her very well, but this is a picture of Neesan (holding Shi-chan).  I talk to her a lot, too.  Usually I tell her and Okaasan about my day everyday (it’s good speaking practice to use a variety of words) and then she and I have good conversations while I help her with the dishes.  She usually is pretty good at teaching me new words and stuff, too.  I also learned a funny thing from her; after work, she always puts “-sa” at the end of everything she says while she talks about her day.  I didn’t know why at first, but then I figured out that -sa is kind of equivalent to the English word “like.” (Ex. “So he was like ‘Are you working?’ and I was like ‘Harder than you!’ and like, I couldn’t believe that he wanted me to stay after work, too!) xp.

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This is a closer picture of Shi-chan.  She is so precious and I love her, but despite being only a year and a half old, she talks CONSTANTLY.  Some of it is pretty cute though.  Whenever she sees me, she’ll say one of two things: “Nee-chan” or “Obentou.”  Nee-chan is  an affectionate term for an older sister figure, so it melts my heart whenever she says it and “Obentou”…what she means is “Obenkyou” which means “study” and she says this because while I’m at school Okaasan always tells her that I’m studying.  When I’m getting ready to leave for school, she sees me with my backpack and says “Shi-chan mo!” which means “Shi-chan, too!” so Okaasan has to carry her outside to say goodbye from the balcony until I walk out of sight.  While I’m gone, she’ll say “Nee-chan choudai” to Okaasan (which means “give me Nee-chan”) to which Okaasan will reply “Nee-chan morawanai yo!” (“you can’t have Nee-chan [she’s a person, not something you can ‘have’]”).  I’ve also been teaching her a couple of words in English, so she can say good morning and hello, but she tells me both regardless of what time of day it is, so I don’t think she actually knows what they mean. xp

I don’t have a good picture of Niisan, but as I’ve said before, he’s awesome.  He’s basically everything I would want in an older brother.  Kind, caring, patient, always concerned about me, funny…(I had to ask my family which numbers they liked and didn’t like for homework once [lucky and unlucky numbers was the theme] and he told me he didn’t like 13; I asked why and he said “Jason might come out!”xD).  He works himself too hard though since he’s got two jobs and lots of orders to fill from his shop for the holidays, so I’m always worried about him…

I don’t have a picture of Kaori-san either, but she has a fantastic sense of humor and I love talking to her.  She loves old American movies, just like me, so we kind of bonded over old Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn movies xp.  She’s also really patient with me, but she talks kinda fast for me sometimes.  About a week ago, Okaasan came home with a bunch of gifts from an event she went to and I asked her if she was opening a shop as a joke, but Kaori-san took it a step farther and said “No, she’s going black market.”  xD  By the end of that conversation, we were laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe.  Takumi-kun said that we were dying. xD

 

Anyway, so that’s my family here.  They really are a second family to me and I love them so much.  If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I’d be as happy here as I am now.  A lot of the dorm students seem kind of lonely a lot of the time…Niisan says that I should just find a family in every country so that wherever I go, I’ll always be home. ❤

Love? Pah! Overrated.

Alrighty!  Story time!

 

A few weeks ago, I went to a cooking class that was being sponsored by Togitsu city (the neighboring city to Nagasaki that my University is technically in).  Gen and I had signed up, but we didn’t realize that we were the only American students who decided to go, sooo….everything was taught entirely in Japanese (the other students were mostly Chinese students from our school, older women, and a few young teenagers).

However, there were about 4 older ladies who came over to me and announced proudly (in English), “We’re studying English now!”  They then asked if I spoke Japanese, etc, etc. (They barely said anything to Gen, but he didn’t look “American” and he didn’t say anything back when they did talk to him, sooo…).  Once I had said a couple of sentences in Japanese, one of the ladies came over and hooked her arm through mine.  She said (in English), “My son is coming today.  I want you to girlfriend with him.”  Ignoring the “Um…NO” look on my face, she turned to the other older ladies and said, “Kekkon?  Kekkon wa chigau deshou?” (which means “Marriage?  Marriage isn’t the right word, right?”) and then to me “Yes, girlfriend.”  O.O

She proceeded to tell me more about her son, who apparently was 33….O.O

Aaaand I escaped as quickly as I could to start on cooking.  All the old women in the kitchen (they were all volunteer teachers in their 70s, I think) helped us make a great meal of soup, sweet potatoes, chicken, and salad.  (They all had different ideas about how things should be done though and about 4 of them were helping Gen and me, so I was constantly being corrected “No, no, thinner,” “Why are they so thin? Cut them thicker…” “No, I just told you to cut them thinner didn’t I?  Weren’t you listening?” -.-)  They were all speaking so fast and in dialect, so I was immensely grateful that I’ve been listening to Okaasan all this time, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to understand even half of what they said.

After the cooking was over and we had finished eating, I ran into the lady who was trying to set me up with her son again.  (I had already met him by this point; he had been helping out at our cooking station)  I figured she had probably figured out that I wasn’t interested by now, so we started having a conversation and I was saying that I was interested in Japanese cooking so she asked me (in English), “Is your dream to open a restaurant?”  and I said “No, I want to become an English teacher in Japan or other non-English-speaking  countries.”  To which she said (I should have known better honestly…) “That’s perfect.  My son is learning English.”  He was overhearing most of this conversation and at this point leaned around the person next to him to wave at me and say “Sensei!” (Teacher). O.O

I mean, he seemed nice and all….but no, just so much no.  The sad thing is that this is not the first nor the last time that this has happened to me since I got here.  Honestly, it’s not really that distressing, it’s just kinda weird when it happens.  I’ve warned my guy friends at school (luckily I have about 6 or 7) that if this ever happens when they’re around, they’ll become my boyfriend for about 10 minutes. xD

Hooray for standing out in Japan. -.-

It was pretty funny though.  Have a great week, guys! ❤