Trapped in Paradise – the DC Edition

Part travel blog, part philosophical musings. All tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness.


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120 days in Tel Aviv

I’ve been in Israel for about two weeks now, so I suppose it’s time I blogged about it.

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Here at last! A view of Tel Aviv during one of my morning jogs.

Getting here was an adventure involving many stops in other continents, stories I’ll get to in due time. But since I’ll be starting my study abroad program tomorrow (finally!) I feel like I need to catch up on what’s been going on in since I arrived in Tel Aviv.

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A bit of visiting all the touristy places, such as the old city of Jaffa.

I got here well before the start of the school year so that I could find a place to live. Thanks to my contacts here, I had learned that apartment hunting in Israel is not like apartment hunting in other cities I’d lived in. Sure, they have Craigslist and Airbnb and a few of the other normal sites if you’re looking to rent or sublet, but that’s basically setting yourself up to get ripped off. Everything is done in person at the last minute, where someone might wake up and decide to rent out a room in their place, so they tell their friends, and by word of mouth (or via one of the many online groups) you might find out about it.

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“Hey, did you guys here about the new apartment on Bograshov Street? Don’t let those exchange students anywhere near it!”

For someone who likes to have plans worked out well in advance, this idea of just showing up with no idea of where to live was not sitting well. At least I was more prepared than many of my fellow exchange students, who decided not to arrive until days before our orientation started.

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Group projects are going to be interesting.

But in the end it worked out well for everyone, including the late-comers. No one ended up homeless in a cardboard box, and thanks to a realtor who randomly showed up in our class Facebook group with a bunch of apartments for rent, I wound up renting a flat with two other students that’s just two blocks from the beach. Perhaps this is a sign that I need to let go of my need for structure and just embrace the Israeli attitude of doing stuff on the fly.

'I joined a relaxation program, to help me overcome my type A behavior. Damit! I'm going to be the best, most relaxed, one in the group.'

Yeah right, this is not going to happen overnight, if at all. Get back to me in February.

Aside from that stress test, adjusting to life in a foreign country has been interesting (in a good way, of course.) I’m reminded of the adjustment I went through when I’d moved to Japan back in 2010, since there were many similarities: non-Indo-European language, completely different writing system, unfamiliar customs and mannerisms, physically sticking out like a sore thumb.

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At least I’m not this guy.

However, in Japan I’d had the built-in support network of the military that had helped me navigate everything from living arrangements to riding the train. Other than the handful of contacts I’d made during my trip here over spring break, I was kind of on my own. Especially since my school had decided to cancel the annual short-term study abroad trip to Israel, citing security concerns. (Apparently letting a group of students come here for ten days was too risky, but sending me to live on my own for four months is totally fine.)

It’s been a fun adventure, though. Overall, I’ve found the locals to be quite friendly and helpful, and even though I had arrived right in the middle of the Jewish holiday season (meaning the city shut down practically every other day, which made shopping for groceries difficult) I haven’t had too bad of a time exploring and getting to know my new home. Plus, the food here is quite amazing (and healthy!)

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Breakfast of champions! Where has shakshuka been all my life?!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to my time here, and am excited to be able to write about it.

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End of summer recap

Now that the busy summer is over, I’ve decided to take a look at my list of goals from a few months ago and see how I did. This should be hilarious.

  1. Find a place to do volunteer work on the weekends.
  2. Keep up with the blog. Maybe start a travel-specific blog.
  3. Sign up for a summer class, such as programming or something tech-related.

So these first three were a colossal failure. When I wrote this, I hadn’t picked up my second internship yet, so I had at least half of every workday to play around with. The second job took up the rest of that time (which I didn’t mind, because it was more experience for the resume) so that’s a resounding NO on the volunteer work this year.

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Yeah, yeah – rub in the guilt, why don’t you. GFY, random inspirational quote generator!

 

The blog – I really, really wanted to launch a new blog before the summer was done, especially since I’ll be living abroad during the next few months. I almost did it today, but then discovered that the WordPress hosting sites (at least the few that I looked at) were a little pricey after the initial “beginner” discounts ran out. Oh, to be rich. I admit that I haven’t looked around much yet, so the research continues.

4. Attempt to learn Hebrew in preparation for studying abroad.

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Learning by osmosis.

Let’s just say… this is a work in progress. “תהיה בריא” or something like that.

5. Consider freelance writing to earn extra cash.

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YES!! I can actually eat three meals today!

See #1-3. Again with wanting to start an official travel blog; I still have this dream of writing for a living, although I have yet to figure out how on earth to incorporate that into a business career. I wanted to use the not-yet-existing blog to get my name out there to start freelancing, but that may also have to wait.

6. Work on writing something for fun, taking one of the many novels I have mulling around in my head and actually putting it on paper.

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My attempt at being a novelist – 13 measly pages to show for it.

I tried! I started off so well, setting a goal at the beginning of the summer to write at least three pages a day (my pace during that one time I participated in NaNoWriMo.) But the two internships got the best of me, and what free time I had went toward the Hebrew studies. Oof. I’m really not doing very well at prioritizing my personal goals, am I?

7. Get my health back on track (which took a serious backseat in May, between finals and my health scare in China.)

 

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Yeah, this happened.

Okay, this one I accomplished! I started following a plant-based diet during the week (being very careful not to say “vegan,” lest I anger the hard-core vegans and end up with angry comments on my blog) and cutting out alcohol except during the weekends. This actually went a long way with helping me get healthy again. It’s not that I want to give up meat and dairy completely (hence the break on the weekends) but I wanted to eat more vegetables and experiment with healthier recipes. By the time Friday rolls around each week, I feel awesome! (I also really, really want an egg and cheese breakfast quesadilla with a bloody mary.) Between the new-and-improved diet and getting back into a workout routine, I found myself a few pounds lighter by summer’s end. Yes! Health was my priority, but if I don’t look like a complete cow by the time I go to Israel, I’m happy with that too.

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Those morning runs in the heat and humidity of Washington DC were tough, but the view made it a little more tolerable.

 

So what’s next (besides figuring out how to finally start a travel blog)? Well, school started for everyone but me. Since the school year at Tel Aviv University, where I’m doing my semester abroad, doesn’t start until late October, I’ve got some extra time on my hands. I’m taking advantage of it as best I can (especially since I won’t get a winter break – the Israelis only take off one day for Hanukkah!) so it’s off to the west coast to visit friends and family. And then… back to Asia!

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Glorious Hong Kong!

Yes, I’m taking the very scenic route to Israel. Two of my classmates are studying abroad In Hong Kong, so I’m going to visit them for a few days. I’m excited – Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities, and it’s been years since I’ve had the opportunity to visit. Also, I should probably a custom suit made (since I’m supposed to be a serious business professional now, so I should at least attempt to look the part.)


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Aloha from London!

Since I’ve ditched cable television and am mostly avoiding Facebook like the plague, I’ve been getting most of my news from business-related podcasts. The beauty of it is that they’re blissfully devoid of all the negativity plaguing U.S. news networks lately. The flip side? Business journalists are still talking about Brexit.

Come on, guys. Even this guy is over it.

Come on now. Even this dude is over it.

BBC Business Daily is one of my go-to podcasts, and I admit I was worried when it took them four days to upload a new podcast after the Brexit vote happened. (“Those poor guys, they must all still be at the pub,” I had thought sadly.) Although I got a good laugh this morning while listening to NPR on the way into work – it seems the Brits have finally stopped worrying so much about the economy, and are back to focusing on the important things, like what’s going to happen to David Cameron’s cat.

How can you leave this little fella behind?!

How can you leave this little fella behind?!

I must have been British in a past life, because this is the first thing I would be worried about.

Anyway, my mind is still a little bit blown that such an issue was put up to a popular vote. I mean, this isn’t like electing your next leader, this is an economic issue that (ideally) you had already elected your leaders to handle in the best way possible. The average joe knows little-to-nothing about international trade. I mean, you wouldn’t ask U.S. citizens to vote on whether or not to stay in NAFTA, would you? Because we all know what would happen: certain presidential hopefuls would be talking all sorts of xenophobic rhetoric along the lines of, “we don’t want them Mexicans taking our jobs!'” and the next thing you know, we’ve no longer got barrier-free trade with Mexico or Canada.

Besides, we already saw what happens when you ask the masses for their opinion. This is how you end up with Boaty McBoatface

Besides, we already saw what happens when you ask the masses for their opinion. This is how you end up with Boaty McBoatface.

But I digress. I was inspired to dig up a halfway-finished blog post from a couple of years ago, when I was lucky enough to fly to the UK for a friend’s wedding. It was my first time visiting, and I loved it! I wasn’t even too upset that I’d had to deal with an 11-hour time change since I had been living in Hawaii at the time. The people were great, the beer was warm but quite good, and both the city and the countryside were wonderful. I’d love to live in London someday.

Big Ben says cheerio!

Big Ben says cheerio!

Chuck and I had decided to make a trip of it and show up a week before the wedding. As it turned out, April was a fantastic time to visit since the weather was pretty much perfect – mild and sunny during the day, a little chilly at night but nothing a light jacket couldn’t solve. We spent our first couple of days doing the typical touristy stuff like walking tours and checking out the famous landmarks. I admit to being disappointed that I couldn’t take a picture making faces at a stoic Buckingham Palace guard like they do in the movies, but the awesome tour of Westminster Abbey made up for it. (It turns out I actually learned a lot of British history from reading all those silly historical romance novels as a teen!)

 

Alas, there were no sightings of Fabio-lookalikes dressed in kilts. Those historical romance books lied!

Alas, there were no sightings of Fabio-lookalikes dressed in kilts. Those historical romance books lied!

The outside of Westminster Abbey - this was one of the walking tours we went on. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos inside the church, because it was pretty spectacular and full of famous dead people (mostly kings and queens, dating back to the 1000's)

The outside of Westminster Abbey – this was one of the walking tours we went on. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the church, because it was pretty spectacular and full of famous dead people (mostly kings and queens, dating back to the 1000’s)

One of the stars of the British Museum: the Rosetta Stone! My inner language nerd was quite happy.

One of the stars of the British Museum: the Rosetta Stone! My inner language nerd was quite happy.

Of course you can't leave London without a walking tour of all the "haunted" places in the city. Sadly, the only ghost we saw was later in the pub.

Of course you can’t leave London without a walking tour of all the “haunted” places in the city. Sadly, the only ghost we saw was in the pub, trying to escape from Chuck’s beer.

It was incredible being in a city with a wide variety of events going on, the lack of which was one of my biggest complaints about living in Hawaii. I loved that it was easy to get tickets to a good show and that nice museums were plentiful. And I definitely loved that you can find just about any cuisine you fancied thanks to the huge mix of cultures there. We had some of the best Peking duck outside of Asia in Chinatown, Indian curry for lunch, and of course great British pub food right before going to see Spamalot. Which reminds me of a funny story – when we went to Leicester Square to buy tickets, we stumbled upon the London premiere of that new movie Noah. I finally got to see a celebrity! Well, sort of. I had to raise my camera above the crowd and blindly take photos, but I got a glimpse and a very blurry picture of the back of Russell Crowe’s head (along with some other actor.)

The crowd was huge so this blurry picture was the best one I could get of the back of Russell Crowe's head and some other guy who's apparently in the movie as well. (I think he plays Noah's son? Whatever, he's not important enough for anyone to remember his name.)

I think he plays Noah’s son? Whatever, he’s not important enough for anyone to remember his name.

We didn’t see the movie until about a year later when it came out on Netflix, and were sorely disappointed that it wasn’t just two hours of Mr. Crowe beating people up and yelling “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!!” at animals as they boarded the ark. Or maybe it was… we wouldn’t know, because we had turned it off after an hour and started watching Gladiator instead.

After a week in London, we headed up to Cambridge for the wedding. What a treat that was! I can only imagine what it must be like going to school there. “Oh, I’ve got my 12:30 economics class in a building from the Plantagenet era, NBD.”

One of our side trips: we stopped by the Blue Bell Inn, which was built in 1257 and has been a favorite RAF hangout over the years. Many pilots have signed their names on the ceiling, including one Prince William (underneath Paul Mac XIII).

One of our side trips: we stopped by the Blue Bell Inn, which was built in 1257 and has been a favorite RAF hangout over the years. Many pilots have signed their names on the ceiling, including one Prince William (underneath Paul Mac XIII).

Cambridge, home of 31 colleges and universities, many of which are older than anything in the U.S.

Cambridge, home of 31 colleges and universities, many of which are older than anything in the U.S.

Campus fines - it costs more to play with a fire extinguisher than it does to punch your professor in the face, apparently.

Campus fines – it costs more to play with a fire extinguisher than it does to punch your professor in the face, apparently.

Hey, look who we found!

Hey, look who we found!

Inside the famed Kings College chapel. The stained glass windows are from the 16th century and depict different scenes from the bible, and were taken down during WWII so they wouldn't get damaged by the air raids.

Inside the famed Kings College chapel. The stained glass windows are from the 16th century and depict different scenes from the bible, and were taken down during WWII so they wouldn’t get damaged by the air raids.

Downtown Cambridge

Downtown Cambridge


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Keeping Austin Weird

This past weekend, I did something I swore I would never do again – I visited Texas.

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How I knew I’d arrived: the cab driver dropped me off, then asked if I wanted a shot. “But don’t worry, I haven’t been drinking! It’s bad business to drink the tequila myself, so I save it for the customers.”

I will caveat this with the standard “I know my experience isn’t indicative of anyone else’s, maybe things have changed and I should give Texas another chance, etc.” That being said, the six months I spent living in San Antonio back in 2005-2006 were among the worst of my life. It just wasn’t a friendly place for someone of half-Italian, half-Asian/Pacific Islander descent, because many people saw my darker skin and became very vocal about how they didn’t like “immigrants” (never mind that I’m American) and being from Seattle, it was the first time I’d had to deal with this. Once I’d finished up my military training at Randolph AFB, I left and swore I would never, ever set foot in this state again. I had even told Chuck that if the Navy ever tried to station him there, he would be going as a geo-bachelor.

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But of course I’d be happy to send a postcard once in a while

So what brought me back? A conference – but trust me, I didn’t go willingly. If it wasn’t for the fact that I need a post-graduation job, and that the conference was held in progressive (and weird) Austin, I would have declined the offer.

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Image credit: Punch Bowl Social

The conference was fine, though I’m not sure it was the right place for me. Although it was advertised as being for all female MBAs, it was actually for a certain subset within that group: specifically, female MBAs between the ages of, say, 22 to 26 with little-to-no real world experience. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of lovely people there and it made my feminist heart glad to see so many messages of empowerment and cooperation. Yet I felt completely out of place; whenever I tried to share my experiences to the other ladies, I would get blank stares usually followed by a comment about how they personally never had to deal with that, and that their male bosses were always respectful so everyone else must be exaggerating.

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Just saying. Expanding your worldview beyond your own experience never hurt anyone.

Throughout the weekend, we were asked to use a word to describe ourselves. This is where the difference between my background and theirs became most apparent – I consider myself courageous because of what I’d accomplished: I flew for the Navy and helped save lives while putting my own in danger. I consider myself resilient because I overcame MST and the subsequent shaming from my military commanders. I consider myself to be inspirational because I’ve been told that I am, by other assault survivors and by other women from lower-income households who hope to also rise out of near-poverty. To be lumped into the same category as someone who says she’s courageous because “the boys were mean and made me get them coffee” at her undergrad internship… okay, look. I get that courage is relative and that everyone’s experience is personal; I really do understand that. But at the same time, maybe you should wait until you’ve actually encountered a hardship before you start bragging about how brave you are. 23-year-old me would have gotten shut down (and rightfully so) if I’d brought my petty complaints to one of my female senior officers, or a mother with children, or a woman who’d been in the corporate world for a while and dealt with workplace discrimination.

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In the meantime…

Moving on. The nice thing was that after the conference I did get a chance to walk around Austin, which is a cute little city that reminds me of the West Coast despite being in the heart of Texas. Yes, it was weird, but still a good place to spend a weekend.
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We visited the famous Baylor Wall, where you can unleash your inner graffiti artist. This was actually really cool – there was a group that had cleared off a section of the wall to promote awareness of LGBT suicides. Anyone was invited to paint, so we participated by adding our own messages.

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“You are strong enough.” More information at Texas Suicide Prevention

It was really inspiring to see so many people come out in support of such an important cause, especially after what happened in Orlando. To see this taking place in an area of the country that traditionally isn’t supportive of alternative lifestyles gives me hope.

 

Anyway, besides the Baylor Wall, Austin is known for many things – hosting music festivals, its fantastic nightlife, and a bridge full of bats.

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From About Travel. No, this is not my picture, because the bats didn’t come out for us.

Thing is, these bats apparently have a sense of humor. When we tried to see them, we ended up waiting until well after the sun had set, and they never showed up! I pictured them having a good laugh at our expense: “Hey guys! Let’s leave the bridge early before the stupid tourists get here! They’ll be waiting all night for nothing! Hahaha!” Our bat-excursion was unsuccessful, so we gave up and went to 6th Street for a beer.
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So, the verdict? Austin is indeed a little weird, but endearingly so. It’s a little like DC in that there’s not much to do during the day that doesn’t involve eating or drinking, but what it lacks in daytime activities it makes up for with the bar scene.  I still would never want to live in Texas ever again, but this town is definitely a nice place to visit. I’m glad I came here, although next time I need to either skip the conference or develop more patience for dealing with the young and naïve.


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Palau: an adventurer’s romantic getaway

It’s so humid and gross in DC during the summer, and I’ve been thinking a lot about a beach getaway recently. A real beach, not what passes for a beach here in the DMV (sorry, Virginia Beach enthusiasts.)

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It’s just not the same

I’m actually not even a big beachgoer, at least not when it comes to sitting in my reclining lawn chair and working on my tan while reading the latest off the New York Times bestseller list, or whatever it is that my mom does when she goes the beach. To me, the beach has been a place to dry off and relax with a tropical drink before jumping back into the water for the next round of your water sport of choice. I came to loathe my time in Hawaii (see: any of my posts before August 2014) but the one thing I do miss is the ocean and all that it has to offer.

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The ocean awaits

If I were to be specific, I would have to say that I miss the underwater activities most of all. It’s ironic to say that, since Hawaii actually has pretty sub-par snorkeling and diving compared to many of the other places I’ve been. I remember working on my scuba certification off the coast of Honolulu, and thinking “wait, this is the best you have? Some nasty half-dead coral on a pipeline? I’ve seen better coral reefs in Guam. Guam, people!” But I digress.

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Meh. I guess it’s alright if you like fighting the crowds at Hanauma Bay just to see a bunch of rocks.

My favorite beach & ocean vacation ever was the tropical paradise of Palau, an island nation in the western Pacific known its limestone rock islands and some of the most amazing scuba diving in the world.

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Like you read about. (Photo credit: Regal Dive UK)

The downside is that it’s not cheap or easy to get there, at least not from the States. Most flight itineraries go through Hawaii and Guam, since there are regular flights between Guam and Palau a few times a week. It’s far easier to get there from Asia; when Chuck and I went in 2011, we’d both been stationed in Japan at the time, so fortunately hopping on a flight south wasn’t too hard.

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Photo credit: Palau Dive Adventures

However, if you have the extra time and cash, and want a unique island getaway experience? You won’t be sorry, trust me.

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None of the next photos have filters, just in case you need more motivation to visit

We landed in Koror, the capital city, to spend the first of our four nights there. “City” is a rather generous term; if you’re expecting a hopping nightlife, you’ll be disappointed. But no one goes to Palau to go clubbing anyway.

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You do, however, have a chance to take a silly photo montage with the ever-changing carpets in the Palasia Hotel elevator.

For the next three days, we set off for the Carp Island resort, which is on one of the smaller islands. There are several cabins, but at the time we went (mid-August) it was practically deserted. If you ever wanted to hang out on your own private island with that special someone, this is your chance!

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On our way! Now THAT is some clear water.

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Landing at the Carp Island Resort

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The view from our cabana

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The resort had kayaks we could borrow, so we went off in search of coral reefs

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I’ve never seen the tides shift so much. These two pictures were taken a mere four hours apart!

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The islands were a battleground during WWII, and you can still see some old artillery sites

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Walking around the island

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Standing on one of the “stone money”rocks that were used as currency back in the day. At least it was pretty easy to figure out who robbed you.

I should point out that I wasn’t scuba certified at the time we went, so when Chuck went diving I stayed near the surface and snorkeled. To tell the truth, I didn’t feel like I was missing out at all. The water is so beautiful and clear, the coral reefs are amazing, and there’s plenty of sea life to see even if you’re not diving. Don’t feel like you have to be able to scuba in order to take advantage of the undersea adventures that Palau has to offer!

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Yes, you too can swim with sharks! (This one was just a baby)

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Beautiful coral

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Coral reefs

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It was amazing being surrounded by so much sea life

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Turtles coming out to play with the snorkelers

After our few days on the private island, we headed back to Koror. On our way back, our boat driver was kind enough to stop by several of the island’s most well-known sites, such as the famous Jellyfish Lake.

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It’s a bit of a hike to get to the lake

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But the walk was worth it! It was like being in another world, surrounded by all these stingless jellyfish.

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Jellyfish pong

We also stopped for more snorkeling.

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The aptly-named Clam City

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So many fish!

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We saw all sorts of wildlife, like sea snakes

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We took a dip in the Milky Way, a natural bath filled with limestone mud which gives the water an eerie turquoise glow.

We had a free day at the end of our trip, so we decided to go deep sea fishing. I was excited since I had never been before, and had visions of catching giant marlin on the high seas like they do on TV. I conveniently forgot about the “high seas” part, and discovered for the first time that being on a small boat way out in the middle of the ocean may not be the best thing for me or my poor stomach. (A lesson that I would learn many times, several years later whenever Chuck dragged me on one of his longer sailing trips.)

Too bad I was so sick, because we caught plenty of fish. (No marlin, though.)

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Channeling my inner fisherwoman (in between heaving my guts out from the seasickness)

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Even though we didn’t get any big fish, there were plenty of tasty smaller ones!

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Sashimi doesn’t get much fresher than this

Looking at these pictures is almost physically painful, especially since I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back in the water, let alone go all the way to Palau. And I haven’t even covered the diving sites such as the wrecks of Peleliu that I would love to see someday. I’ll just have to live vicariously through those of you who are out diving and snorkeling. In the meantime, there are swimming pools in DC.

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But really, where are you going to find a swimming pool like this?


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The Beijing tourist package

You know what was the best thing about being in Asia for three weeks? Getting to forget all about the clown show that is the U.S. presidential election.

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If only this were true, Random Guy on Whisper. If only…

Oh well, that’s what pictures and memories are for. I wanted to wrap up my trip to China by talking about the most fun (and admittedly touristy) part – Beijing!

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The Chairman says hey

Fresh off our final client presentations, we were now free to board an airplane to the nation’s capital and forget all about nanotechnology for the time being. We had worked hard over the last few months; now it was time to relax. I knew we would be hitting all the typical tourist sites that I think everyone sees when they visit Beijing: the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, and so on. Normally I’m averse to the canned tour group experience and prefer to go on my own program, but after spending so much time off the beaten path in Changsha (and probably sick from the experience, as I mentioned in my last post) I was happy to sit back and be led around for a while.

We started our Beijing leg with something rather awesome and unexpected.

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Riding in style

A rickshaw tour of one of the old city neighborhoods! I’d been on a rickshaw once before in Japan, but then it was mostly for the novelty of having a guy literally run you around the city. These, however, were driven by bicycles, so I felt a little less guilt. It was a really cool way to see the less-traveled parts of the city, and a lot of fun being in a caravan with a bunch of friends.

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Not even the rickshaws are exempt from the Beijing traffic!

There are families in the old neighborhood that open up their homes to visiting groups, partly to help offset the extreme cost of owning such a home. Mrs. Yuan was gracious enough to invite us in and talk to us a little bit about the culture while showing us around her house. She informed us that her house had been in her family for five generations, and that the home is worth about $30,000 per square meter. Insane!

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I know the inside courtyard is nice and all, but come on.

We did have to do one last business school thing, which was make a visit to the Beijing International Studies University. This school, we learned, has one of the top tourism & hospitality programs in the world, and it attracts many students from China and other parts of the world. I loved having the chance to meet them and learn their stories, especially since many of them come from countries that aren’t represented very well in DC, if at all. For instance, I’d never met anyone from Kazakhstan before, and after that day I knew three! Another student was from Myanmar, and was telling me about how he wants to help spearhead the effort to bring tourism there now that it’s becoming safer to travel. All in all, a really great experience, and they were kind enough to take us to a nightclub later (with VIP access and free drinks the whole night. Talk about hospitality!)

Over the next couple of days we visited several famous sites, as advertised.

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Many cities have a giant clock to announce the time; Beijing has the Drum Tower

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The Kung Fu show was awesome!

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I’m sure this didn’t help my food issues

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My favorite activity of the entire China trip – conquering the Great Wall! Here I am, catching my breath and trying to look elegant while doing so (but really, I was clinging onto the stones for dear life.)

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The Summer Palace, where the ancient 1% liked to chill and complain about those pesky peasants

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Inside the Forbidden City. So many people, so many square feet of concrete.

Forbidden City 1

It’s good luck to touch nine of the doorknobs when entering the Forbidden City (but only nine; if you only touch eight, it brings disaster upon your house, and if you touch ten you’ll be doomed to a life of neglect and unemployment.)

Forbidden City 2

The City was really cool, but I have to admit that after a while all of the 999 buildings started to look the same. I started to wonder if our tour guide was making up stories to keep us interested: “This is where the Emperor’s prostitutes used to stay. And over here was housed the Imperial Ping Pong team…”

Forbidden City 3

“…And here, a carving depicting the end of the world, when snakes creep out of the mountains and devour all the air pollution…” (Actually, considering Beijing’s air quality, that doesn’t sound so bad.)

Forbidden City 4

“…And down this ancient corridor lies the path to long life and the ability to devour mass quantities of animal parts that you normally wouldn’t ever consider eating…”

Forbidden City 6

“…And here are the Imperial Gardens, full of old rocks that symbolize the everlasting powers of ancient mud…”

Forbidden City 7

“…And in case you didn’t get a good enough view of the Royal Rock Garden, here is a close-up.”

Temple of Heaven 3

On our way to the Temple of Heaven, we walked through a park where some were practicing their ballroom dancing. Many of these people belonged to the generation affected by the Cultural Revolution, and are now out to reclaim their lost youth.

Temple of Heaven

Roses in bloom at the Temple of Heaven, with the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in the background. This building is remarkable for being completely built out of wood, and no nails or hardware.

My one real complaint – and this is a total “first world problems” moment, is that it’s demoralizing being part Asian and traveling with a bunch of westerners in China. They were treated like celebrities, and everywhere we went people would stop to take pictures with them. The girls in my group were called “the most beautiful” and the guys were treated like celebrities. Okay, no big deal and it was amusing to watch, except they would then turn to me and treat me like a third-class citizen! I don’t know how many times I was denied the same discounts and free handouts that they’d gotten, or told to get out of a group picture. It was a strange and unsettling experience; I’d traveled in Asia many times with other westerners while I was still in the military, and I don’t ever remember encountering this. Then again, I had never before been to China, and this country was definitely different from Thailand and the others I’d been to. Oh well. Not the worst thing in the world, but it did make me come back and immediately want to book a trip to England or southern Europe where the locals were friendly to me no matter who I was traveling with.

pay attention cat

“I want someone to call me pretty and take my picture too!”

All in all, it was a great experience. I don’t know that I’ll have the opportunity to visit China again anytime soon (although I should, considering how much it cost to get that tourist visa, and it’s good for ten years!) but I’m definitely glad I got to go! It was interesting being in a country that’s modernizing but still so disconnected from the rest of the world, if that makes sense. I had the opportunity to make new friends, even though I can only communicate with them through WeChat, one of the only social media apps that’s permitted in China and the primary form of communication there. I crossed another item off my bucket list by climbing the Great Wall. I got to learn a lot about an industry that’s new and interesting to me, and interact with high-level professionals. And I got to go into new territory (for me, and for many of my friends) by visiting Changsha, a place that’s still relatively unknown. It was great being back in that part of the world where I’d spent so many good years.

So… where to next?


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Post-vacation blues

…And just like that, it’s over.

vacation is over

It’s always such a letdown coming home after a long trip, even if that trip involved a ton of work and not as much leisure time as you would have liked. We’ve been working toward the China trip since the beginning of the year, so now that it’s finally over, I kind of don’t know what to do with myself. Yeah, I still need to write about Beijing (which was a BLAST) but now that the summer break has finally begun I need to finally figure out what I’m doing for the next few months.

On my short list of things to do:

  1. Get an internship
  2. Get caught up on Game of Thrones
  3. Go grocery shopping

Okay, not necessarily in that order. Obviously GOT was first, because everyone and their mom was posting spoilers on social media! I was logging on to Facebook just long enough to post pictures from China (and therefore letting my family know I was still alive without having to actually call home) and trying to close the screen before I could see anyone else’s updates, and I was still able to piece together what had happened to Hodor. Ugh, the internet annoys me sometimes.

spoiler alert

Even in a communist country where the government censors the internet!

On the internship piece, good news! After all my struggles over the semester, I was finally able to secure something right after I returned from China. I was really worried about this, since I had been getting requests for interviews while I was abroad, but thanks to China’s strict government regulation of their internet, my connectivity was intermittent at best. Using a VPN helped (I had fairly good luck with ExpressVPN, utilizing their 30-day free trial period) but it still wasn’t 100% reliable. Therefore, I had lost out on a few opportunities and there was nothing I could do about it.

Thankfully, on my last night in Shanghai, I was able to schedule an interview with a local start-up for after I got back into DC. The interview went well, and the next day I was told I had the job. Oh THANK GOD. Sitting under the cloud of impending unemployment was not a fun experience, especially since they’re always telling MBAs that if you don’t get an internship, your prospects for employment after graduation are next to nothing.

unemployed

MBA Class of 2017

So with 2/3 of my short list taken care of (I still need to go grocery shopping, don’t judge me) I can at last focus on the long list:

  1. Find a place to do volunteer work on the weekends
  2. Keep up with the blog. Maybe start a travel-specific blog.
  3. Sign up for a summer class, such as programming or something tech related
  4. Attempt to learn Hebrew in preparation for studying abroad next semester
  5. Consider freelance writing to earn extra cash
  6. Work on writing something for fun, taking one of the many novels I have mulling around in my head and actually putting it on paper
  7. Get my health back on track (it took a serious backseat during the last month of school)

#7 actually needed to be higher on the list, since I’m pretty sure I had an allergic reaction to something in the food in Changsha. I never did figure out what it was, only that my hands and feet swelled up to the point where I couldn’t wear jewelry or some of the shoes that I brought, and my face was the size of a melon. I didn’t realize how bad it was until a friend had posted on Facebook two pictures back-to-back: one was on our first site visit in Shanghai, at the beginning of our trip; the other on our last day in Changsha after we gave our final presentations. In the first picture, I still have cheekbones. In the second, I look like I’d been stung in the face by about 50 bees.

fat-persian-kitten

I went looking for a stock photo of a swollen face after an allergic reaction and now I’m scarred for life. So instead of sharing the pain, here’s a stock photo of a fat kitten.

If I ever figure out what it was, I’ll let you know. There were so many strange things we ate over there that I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to figure it out. Oh well. The only thing I can do now is continue to detox and work toward getting back in fighting shape.

Anyway, it’s no accident that writing is involved in 3 of the 7 items on my list. I’ve been wanting to get back into it – really get back into it – for a long time now. We shall see if I can actually follow though with it this time…