Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sydney Highlights

This computer won't let me connect my photo memory card, so pics are pending. However, since I leave for New Zealand tomorrow, I figure it is high time for an Australian update. I have been in Australia for 5 nights now, and several things strike me about the greater Sydney area:

**I am back to a Western world (everything costs a lot, people speak in English, I no longer can see who is a foreigner, no one stares, there's a TARGET).

**Sydney is a very liveable city... it is a comfortable size and has a great public transportation system that consists of buses, ferries, and trains. Plus people are friendly, there's water everywhere, and I can understand what everyone is saying to me again!

**I am no longer in tropical summer weather (it is winter here and today was the shortest day of the year)

** My body is falling apart (first I had food poisoning from the airplane food, then I got incredibly seasick from a whale-watching trip, then I got a nasty ear infection-- probably from the rivers in Thailand. At least hospitals in Australia are nice!).

Anyhow, some of the sightseeing highlights of my time here include the following:
1) I stayed on a beach north of Sydney for 2 nights. My last morning there it actually warmed up enough for me to be comfortable in light clothes and I took a long walk down a gorgeous empty sandy beach with a latte in my hand and nothing pressing. Fantastic!

2)Seeing many of the traditional sightseeing spots: the Sydney Opera House, the botanical gardens, the zoo, the bridge, Circular Quay, Hyde Park, Chinatown, Darling Harbour etc.

3)Whale watching-- as I said before I got insanely seasick, but it was well worth it! I saw 14 different humpback whales in the wild including small baby whales and massive ones. Some got within 20 feet of our boat! On the last stretch we were with an active pod of 7 whales for about 20 minutes. It was incredible!

4) Tour of the Blue Mountains with a stop at the Wildlife Park: I saw the gorgeous national park just about 2 hours from Sydney. I rode the world's steepest railway train (once used for coal mining) down into the rainforest below the Three Sisters and then hiked back up by a massive waterfall. Not only did I get to see the beautiful mountain ranges, but along the way stopped at a wildlife park where I got to pet koalas and feed kangaroos. Both have the softest fur! While the park was a slightly contrived way to see Aussie wildlife, it was still amazing. Plus I saw a pair of kangaroos hopping through the bush on our drive home. So I feel like I just got the close up experience at the park and the natural experience on the road.

I'm excited to see some familiar faces in Auckland tomorrow. It is the first time in weeks that I will see someone I know! However, I am sad to leave Australia. I wish I had more time here. I really enjoy Sydney.

One week and a few days till I am back in the states. Love and miss yall!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Animal adventures

I just got back from a two day trip outside Bangkok to the Kanchanaburi area. It was amazing. Some highlights include the following:

Seeing the Bridge over the River Kwaie, going to the WW2 museum, and seeing the cemetary for Allied POWs killed in the construction of the bridge:

Going to the Temple of Tigers (where wildlife is incredibly tame). I literally layed in a tiger's paws, had a grown tiger's head in my lap, played with a tiger cub, stood feet away from boars and water buffalo, and pet a deer (which I had previously conceived to be the most skittish creatures on earth). It was an amazing experience! Definitely once in a lifetime :)

Sleeping on a river hotel and waking up to the following view:

Riding an elephant AND getting to spend an hour bareback riding a different elephant and bathing with it in the river. I could do flips and dives off of it, it sprayed me, and I had a ton of fun. Part of what made it so much fun was that there were just two of us on this part of the trip. Me and a girl named Alex (who ironically lives about 5 minutes from my parents, though we met in Thailand).

And jumping off a bridge

Thailand (outside Bangkok) is sooo much fun :) I don't want to leave a warm climate tomorrow!

For more pics see my facebook album:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Welcome to Thailand!

Yesterday was my last day in China. I spent most of the day exploring a series of markets with Sara. We went to the pearl market and the silk market (both were about 8 stories tall and jammed with everything from silks to teas, to pottery, to pashminas, to strange toys). We mastered the art of bargaining and befriended some jewelry makers at the pearl market. We also hung out at an interesting park by the Temple of Heaven for part of the afternoon. The park was a vibrant collection of locals and tourists alike. Locals had singing contests, friends gathered in circles to play an interesting version of hackisac, and older men congregated to play poker. Tourists marvelled at the melodies belted by men with accordians and the dance steps of accapella-singing women. After a long day of shopping we got foot massages and pedicures at the silk market. Then we ended the night with a trip to a lake where we had a few drinks with a few of our hostelmates (a prof from Cornell, a girl getting her TEFL certification from Australia, and a Canadian who just got off a ferry from Korea) beside the water and watched a Eurocup game on a big screen TV. Pretty sweet ending to China.

Then this afternoon, I made it safely to country #2 on my itinerary. It was a painful morning waking at 4:20 AM to make it to my 8 AM flight (especially after staying out until about 2 am the night before). But the flight itself was fine and I slept most of it. After finding my way to my hostel, I spent the entire afternoon until it got dark wandering my area. Bangkok is a sprawled out city and it was more difficult to navigate than Beijing (with its convenient subway system). But it was good to get lost and see what local streets are like. Thank goodness I have a pretty good sense of direction and can get myself back on track eventually. A few shots from my walk:

Tomorrow I'll do all the touristy things in Bangkok and then I head out of the city for 2 days to do things like ride elephants, see waterfalls in a national park, and sleep on a river. My life rocks.

I put a few of the highlights from China in a facebook album. Follow this link to check them out:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Day 2, Beijing style

The following was on the agenda for today:
1. Hike 8 km of the Great Wall (amazing, terrifying at moments, unfathomable creation, gorgeous views, rigorous hike, lots of conversations with random people)
2. Zipline down from the wall over a canyon
3. Random Chinese food with a girl named Sara (I seem to find Sarah's everywhere)
4. Night street market to try some odd food. The highlights for me include eating a seahorse, a scorpian, a tiny bite out of a cochroach type bug, and some random chewy candy that Sara and I decided tasted like incense.

Monday, June 9, 2008

In Beijing!

Hi all. Just wanted to let you know I made it safe to Beijing and have survived my first day of solo travel. It has been a crazy day of dealing with new transportation systems (including a bike cab that ripped me off!! boo!) and exploring the city. I think I walked for about 7 hours straight today. I have no idea how many miles I walked all together. My hostel is right next to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and I explored both of those. I also went to the Lama Temple and wandered around that area. For dinner I had the famous Peking Duck and an awesome mushroom dish from a restaurant Lonely Planet featured. On the map, it looked close to the subway. In reality, it was SO FAR AWAY. But the food ended up being worth the hike and I saw a lot of random interesting things along the way. Basically a day where I oriented myself by foot... just the way I like doing things :) I'm earning all my Chinese food and seeing life along the way!

Off to read for a bit, I'm exhausted! But I'm safe and IN CHINA!!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Only a few days left to be Korean...

I only am in Korea a few more days, so I am living it up Korean style. As you may have inferred from my last few posts, this has been a stressful few weeks. So, to take off a bit of the pressure, I went with a few coworkers to a jimjilbang tonight. I did the usual sauna time: soaked in green tea spas, gave myself a salt scrub, sat under mineral showers, let an old lady agressively scrub me down. Then I tried something new... cupping. What, might you ask, is cupping? Well it is a popular Korean method for releasing toxins and releaving stress. Basically a woman rubbed down my back with oil and gave me massive hickeys with cups that are somehow supposed to increase circulation and get rid of toxins. Hmmm... First she passed cups (that looked like tea cups) over a massive bunson burner. The heated cups were immediatly placed on my back and the heat created a suctioning effect. Overall, it was a fairly painful process but it made me feel strong (and brave...or stupid, not sure yet which. It might depend if I can sleep with my welts). I doubt I'll do it again, but I figure I might as well be openminded every once in awhile. Quite the experience. QUITE.

Check out my back and my hickeys of healing. HAHA

I look like I've been attacked by aliens.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Blogging is way more fun than grading. So a few more random thoughts:

1. Korea is amazing. Last week I watched a store get gutted and transformed into a fully funtioning 7-11 in a day and a half. FULLY FUNCTIONING IN ONE DAY!

2. I am not allowed in glasses stores anymore. I bought yet another pair of glasses today (bringing my Korean purchases up to 4 pairs). But they are only about $20 including the lens!! In my defense, my 4 pairs have cost the following: $25, 20, 20, 12. Not so bad when you think about it that way.
My newest pair:

Then again, how many different duo-colored glasses (where at least one side is green) does one need?

Yet I think grass green/red and lime green/purple are totally different, don't you?

3. I have now officially finished 3/5 classes worth of grading/narrative comments. That means I'm over half done!! :) Only a few more days!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

4 thoughts of the moment

1. I made a to-do list last night to organize in my mind all the things I have to do before I leave in less than a week. It has 82 items on it. Can you guess how I feel right about now? And yet, I'm still procrastinating and blogging instead of packing/grading/cleaning...

2. I am getting really sad to have some of my coworkers leave next year (they scatter all over the world). We had our staff goodbye yesterday and it made me realize a)what a great community I am in, and b) how important each person is to it. As I think about people leaving, I am also sad that my 10th graders will move on to 11th grade (and therefore, will not be taught by me). They are really great kids. While I know I will still have them around next year, I will miss the daily encounters. Plus, while I don't know many of them, I am sad to watch the 12th graders that I have worked with through Inkblotz or soccer go off to colleges all over the world. I guess transition is something I'm going to have to get used to in an international school.

3. I am starting to get nervous for my trip. This time next week I will be in my first of 4 countries I am travelling to solo. As you all well know, I am very much a people person. This 3 week trip will be a big test for me to see how well I can function independently. I sure hope I pass! But, apart from the nerves, I am stoked to experience China, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand. Plus Japan at the end of the summer.

4. I WILL BE BACK IN THE STATES IN 30 DAYS! When I get back I will be 10 days shy of a calendar year abroad. I can't believe it. I am SOOOOOO excited to see people and have easier communication with those of you who are far away. I am eager to see how I've changed. I find that it is easiest to ID ways that you've changed once you go back to a place/people you know well. I know this year has altered me in many ways. I excited to discover and share my changes.

While I'm not anticipating many more blog posts in this hectic week, I am sure that there will be many to follow as I begin my travels. Please leave me messages to let me know that I'm connected to people as I migrate around the world alone! :)

One month!