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! ❤

 

This is a Very Strange Place You Have Here

Well, once again, it has been a while since my last post, but here I am again.  I’ll talk more about my time in Japan in retrospect in the future probably, but for now, I’m going to focus on my current travels.  As I write this, I’m sitting in my hostel in Thailand, but I’ll start from the beginning.

 

At the beginning of August, I finished my year-long study abroad in Japan and after rushing and stressing through the last few weeks of finals and packing I had a couple of quiet days with my host family before I was off to Shanghai (getting the visa for China was kind of annoying, but not nearly as difficult as I had been led to believe).

 

In Shanghai, I was met by my good friend Qian who I met in Japan (he came from Guangzhou, a large city in southern China, in order to meet me at the airport in Shanghai).  We planned most of this trip together and he was with me for over 3 weeks.  (If you’re curious, Qian speaks English relatively well, but we can use English or Japanese to understand each other; a lot of the kanji for Chinese and Japanese are the same or very similar, so me knowing the kanji for some things helps communication, but we usually stick to English because he says it’s easier for him than speaking Japanese)

After a loooong subway ride into the city, we found our hostel and went out for food.  We went to a really small noodle shop with no English.  (This will be a common theme for most of the posts about this trip; having Qian to translate for me was amazing). The food was good, if a bit bland (yet another common comment you’ll hear from me about China xp).  Then we went for a walk to explore and talk…and we got lost.  Like really really lost.  Didn’t help that his phone seemed to be drunk and couldn’t decide where to lead us as he asked it for directions (“That way…?  No, no, wait, I think it’s that way….Turn around. Wait, where were we going again…?”).  Eventually we found our way back though after stopping for ice cream (Qian was appalled that I bought the “expensive” ice cream which was like two bucks; China is usually unbelievably cheap, as I came to notice the further we got from Shanghai).

 

The next day was our only full day in Shanghai and we spent it at the zoo.  It was a fairly average zoo as zoos go, but I still enjoyed it.

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(That’s Qian, by the way, in case you couldn’t guess xp)

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(Aaaand I had a little too much fun imitating the fish…xD)

That night we watched Shindler’s List that Qian had found with Chinese subtitles which was really good and a nice way to wind down and prepare to ride another plane the next day.  Aside from that, Shanghai was pretty uneventful.

 

On to Guilin!

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.

Street MeStreet Paige

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! ❤

 

Where’s Your Sense of Mystery? Of Adventure?

Well, once again I managed to put off writing on my blog for a few weeks. Whoops.  Paige finally sent me the pictures from our time in Korea though, so hooray!  I’m going to write two posts on Korea…possibly three.  Otherwise they’ll just be absurdly long. Without further ado, here is my first week in Korea!

 

So, after spending a rather uneventful 5 days in Fukuoka (got to know the French cleaning staff there; other travelers like me, working instead of paying for room and board….and that was about it xp), I got to the airport in Fukuoka (running late) and managed to cause every problem I possibly could on my way to the plane.  Got in the wrong line for check-in (cause I’m smart like that) and wasted about 20 minutes there, then got to the correct check-in desk but they were horrified that I didn’t have my e-ticket printed (apparently that’s important) so they had to do it for me, rearranged my bags at the desk because I thought I had to do one bag checked but I didn’t, so I wasted a good 10 minutes debating with the check-in lady whether I had one carry-on bag or two because she didn’t think that I intended to check either of them (they zip together, so it was all needless drama), then I forgot to empty my pockets at the security checkpoint so they had to pat me down (I also forgot that I had fluids in my bag since I had intended to check it, which they had to fully search and confiscate the items)…by the time I made it to the gate it was the last call for boarding, so apparently I just do not airport well.  It was an improvement over my flight out of Denver though because when I made a mistake there (first time by myself traveling nerves I guess) I literally broke down into tears because they had to take and fully search my bag because I didn’t know the rules.  This time I was a dumbass, but a very calm and dignified dumbass.

 

Me being a moron aside, I managed to arrive in Seoul a few hours later where I had to wait a few hours in the airport for Paige to arrive.  She actually arrived an hour early (when was the last time you heard of a plane being early?  I mean, for real?) and we had a sort of reunion before heading out to take a subway to our hostel…and summarily getting locked behind the ticket gate because we can’t subway either (we finally just bought T-money cards which are (mostly) idiot-proof, but I still managed to lock myself behind another gate the next day, so who’s to say?).

The hostel we stayed at was an adorable little hostel near Hongdae (the subway stop was actually Hapjeong though) called The Lazy Fox Hostel (with adorable foxes painted on pretty much every available surface; you can’t go wrong, really).  We were staying in the basement in a 6 bed female dorm room (the window in our room was above my head and it was at ground-level outside).  You’d think it would have been cold since it was March, but no.  Our room was well insulated and had a heated floor, so it was actually stiflingly hot and dry for the first few days.  It was only like 25 degrees outside, but we left the window open at night because we were dying.

Our first night, we didn’t really want to eat out, but we were starving, so we found this dumpling fast food place just down the street…let’s just say (conservatively) that we went there often…the dumplings were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  Although, that night we got some of the spicy ones (no) and I thought I was tough to spicy things (just so much no), so I ate one in one bite (nooooo) and after realizing I was not going to enjoy them, I figured I’d just eat the other two in quick succession so that at least they’d be gone (WHY?!?)…yeah….I couldn’t speak for like half an hour because I’m pretty sure they burned my throat and tongue away completely and brought the smoldering ashes with them into my stomach.  When Korea says spicy…just don’t.  If you care for yourself at all, just don’t.  Even things that aren’t supposed to be spicy are spicy there (and that’s okay), but if it’s labelled “spicy”….no.

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Anyway, so, our first full day in Seoul, we decided to head out to this cultural park and museum area…but as soon as we got there, we were immediately distracted and left. xD  We saw a brochure talking about hiking and walking trails in Seoul and saw that there was a walking trail along Seoul’s old city wall just to the north of us.  Obviously, we immediately headed there and forgot about the museum we came to see (also the “park” was very boring, as you can see in my picture above…it’s just weird buildings).

But, no sooner had we started walking north to find the wall, we got side-tracked when we saw a shoe market.  Literally.  Just shoes.  I’m not a huge fan of shoe shopping, but the insanity of a dark market, blocks long, just for shoes was fascinating.

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Like seriously, it just went on like this for at least 3 blocks.  Also, the shoes were only like 10,000 won, which is like 8 bucks. O.o

By the time we came out of this winding market, we had no idea where we were.  We both thought we knew which way we were going (didn’t) and debated about it for a while (meanwhile meeting an awesome old man who shook our hands and said “Hilary Clinton, best!” xD), then just struck out in a random direction…until we saw a river walk and HAD to go walk along it, wherever it was going. It was beautiful.

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There were rocks to cross the river and these two very nice older men offered to take pictures for us.  They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Korean (beyond “hello” and “thank you”, but with gestures and smiles, it all seemed to work out.

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Paige and I apparently have a hidden talent: to end up exactly where we began without having a clue how we did it (it happened no less than 3 times during this trip while we were together xD).  So we ended up back near the entrance to the shoe market (we found a map that told us so), so we headed north to our original destination of the old Seoul wall (and the nearby tower).

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After taking this picture to impress all of you with my amazing selfie skills (with no experience and a heavy camera that always equals awkward times for everyone, yay; 5 takes…just sayin’. We need like a friend who’s a vampire so they can take pictures for us, but doesn’t need to be in them because they won’t show up anyway), we finally started the walk up along the old wall.  It was really cool and you can touch it and climb on it and everything; the trail went right along it.

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At the end of the trail, we came to a summit overlooking the city.  It was a lovely day out (you may have seen my amaaaazing pictures already on my home page here and on facebook xp).

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After we’d had our fill of the view and taking pictures, we started to head back, but I decided impromptu that we should just snake down through the residential area (which bordered the trail to the summit) instead of taking the trail back down.  Paige was skeptical, but followed me.  I had no idea there was anything there.

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We didn’t take any good pictures of it unfortunately, but just past what you see in this picture, there was an art walk that wound down and around through the steep residential area back to the major roads.  Beautiful art graffiti-ed the walls all along this road: flowers, people, swirling colors, nature…it was awesome (honestly, that’s probably why we forgot to photograph it xD).

Once back on the main road, we took the subway back to Hapjeong, intending to crash for the night, but we met a girl in the common room of our hostel who was going for food, so we of course went with. xp

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So we had bibimbap, which is basically just veggies (sometimes with a little meat) and a ton of rice thrown into a bowl which you then get to add spicy red pepper paste to to your liking and stir, then eat with either chopsticks or a giant spoon (you quickly learn to be very careful of anything RED in this country…).  And of course there was kimchi.  Because Korea.  It was great.

Aaaaaand then Paige and I both got a nasty cough and Paige was super nauseous for a couple of days so we stayed in and played Stardew Valley (basically Harvest Moon, but for the PC) for a couple of days while living off of amazing baked goods from a local bakery, takeout dumplings, and ice cream (hey, I’m an adult, so I get to decide what that means).

Next post I’ll try to cover more days, but this day was so full of stuff.  And it’s getting pretty long, so I guess I’ll just space it out a little.  More to come (hopefully) soon.  Take care, guys! ❤

All of Life Can Be Broken Down Into Moments Of Transition

Anyone who’s done any traveling solo can probably tell you, there’s a moment when you realize that traveling and traveling by yourself in particular is not nearly as hard as everyone makes it out to be.  Other people back home have always said, “oh, I wish I could travel” or “I wish I had the courage to travel”, but honestly, living on the road is not very different from living in one place for a long time.  The only difference is that you are constantly forced to try new things because you aren’t in a place long enough to really form habits.

As long as you are fine with eating pretty much anything and flexible as far as where you go and what you see, traveling (and staying in hostels) is a super easy, fun experience.  You meet all sorts of new people, try all kinds of weird and delicious food, and (if you’re anything like me) you still have time to do all the things you did back home (you know…cook, play games, waste time on the internet. The list is endless!).

Mom, Dad, and Rachel are coming to visit Japan in less than a week, but their travel plans are so different from mine.  I am so excited that they are coming.  I just finished a week of hanging out with Paige in Korea, and I can say that I love traveling with people that I care about…buuuuut I do also really enjoy traveling alone.  There are just so many opportunities that only seem to present themselves if you are alone and have no solid plans or people to “check with” before doing something spontaneous.  Over the last 6 weeks or so, I have spontaneously gone hiking up to hot springs in the mountains, done karaoke with two strangers, shared dinner with about 7 people (1 Japanese, 6 Korean) who were practicing their English, cooked with the cleaning staff of my hostel in Fukuoka (who were all French), gone out for dumplings (twice) with various people from my hostel (one of the times I was the translator because one of my companions spoke English an the other spoke Japanese, so that was pretty cool), walked the bar district of Seoul with an Israeli woman and an Argentinian man,  and learned how to play “shithead” (a FANTASTIC card game) from a man from Saudi Arabia (we played with about 6 other people and had a total blast; we actually played it every night for like 4 nights with the same people xD).

 

I can easily say that traveling has taught me to open up a lot more and be more confident in myself.  My time in Japan and my time traveling solo so far has helped me develop so much more as an adult than I would have thought possible.  Aaaaand I’m planning my next trip already.  Maybe China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand as another 6-8 week stint after my semester is up?  We’ll see.  Depends on my budget mostly. xp

 

I hope you guys are having a great year so far. This was just a rambling sort of post, but I’ll put up actual updates about my time in Fukuoka and Korea soon.  Love you guys! ❤

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! ❤