Saturday, January 28, 2012

This was this one time...

Oh China...blogging used to be so fun and easy. But now...not so much. Thanks, Great Firewall! And also my own laziness! It also doesn't help much that I've been super busy, doing things such as "laying on my bed" and "watching pirated totally legal DVDs".

No but for reals y'all, I have been doing stuff. Here is some of it:

  • Melting in the unending heat and humidity of yet another East Asian summer
  • Turning 26 in Shanghai
  • Going to Vietnam
  • Taking the Foreign Service Officer Test (and passing! but not making it to the next stage)
  • Fambly and friend visits
  • Yet another T-give and Xmas outside of America
  • Backpacking in Yunnan
  • Chinese New Year
  • General ridiculousness
It's currently Chinese New Year which turns out to be WAY more fun than Actual New Year (seriously, a whole week off for celebrations? Get on this everybody else), and as my plan of Doing Absolutely Nothing is proving a little boring, and since I have been successfully browbeaten, I'm returning to blawgging. 

So here's the dillyo, y'all. I'ma work on fleshing out some stuff I've done recently in China, and posting some pics. Perhaps I'll even bring back the Foreign Lands Round-up. And certainly we'll go back to our regularly scheduled blah-gging. YOU'RE WELCOME.

Meantime, here's a parody of Wilson Phillips (were they ever topical, or was it just because of Bridesmaids?) from a sketch show in the early nineties called The Edge (take note of Jennifer Aniston pre-Friends).

Monday, May 23, 2011


Well not really, but it sounds good, right? Right? Whatever, I'm updating now, so be happy about that, nerds.

It should probably be a testament to how much I'm liking it here that I haven't updated baaaaasically since I got here. Either that, or a testament to how busy I've been lately. Which, as you might surmise, is fairly busy.

I suppose I should start with my school, as that is the thing that consumes most of my life these days. A couple things about that:

  1. Being able to converse fluently with your coworkers is WAY underrated. I cannot tell you how much nicer it is to be able to speak with the people I work with
  2. I am SERIOUSLY busy in my new job and I love that! You may recall that last year I essentially did very little that required any amount of thought or creativity, especially during school break times. This year is shaping up to be the complete opposite, and I couldn't be more excited. Yes, grading essays takes a while, but I am so happy to be teaching kids who can WRITE essays.
  3. It's nice to be at a job where I am both appreciated for my talents and respected as a teacher. Seriously. It's like the EXACT OPPOSITE from Hwaseong Elementary School
It's hard to convey just how much better this job is than my last job. People here don't get it; people back in America don't get it; people in Korea don't get it...I think it's because none of them really knew just how bad my last school was. Being ignored, treated like an assumed paedophile/drug addict, marginalized in every sucks. But here at my new job, the hours are longer and weirder, and the vacation is less, but I feel like an actual teacher working with a team of teachers. It's nice to feel like that. It really is.

Another thing making me SO MUCH happier here than in Korea is living in a real city again. If the last year taught me anything, it's that I can use chopsticks. Also, that I need to live in a city. Preferably a large one, and they don't come much larger than Shanghai. I love this place! I love feeling the crush of people around me - knowing that there's always someone nearby. I love the diversity that comes in any large city. I love sitting in a restaurant hearing people chatting in Chinese, yes, and English, but also in French, Italian, German, Arabic, Farsi. I love that no matter what day it is, no matter what time it is, there's always something going on. Most of all, I love living in cities because it makes me feel part of something larger than myself. Not to get all cliche about it, but I love being a part of the living, breathing human fabric that makes up the story of our civilization.

The people here are great - in another post, I'll expound at length on the difference between an academy teacher and a public school teacher, but for now I've found a good group of friends and an even better pub quiz team. The East LA Shamrocks have won three nights in a row (and about $300 in bar vouchers) and have our eyes on the prize: the overall season winners will get an open bar party for 20 people. I plan on being there come July. While no one can really replace the Pamily (miss you all terribly!), I think I'm going to enjoy the people here.

Of course, I am well aware that this is all a part of the honeymoon period, and that in about 6 weeks I'll start feeling beaten down and trod upon by this new culture I'm encountering. Fortunately for me, by then summer intensives will have started and I won't have time to feel anything but exhausted.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fighting the internet in China

Good news, everybody! I've arrived safe and sound in Shanghai, if not a little (a lot) jetlagged. China so far is...interesting. Fascinating, even. It's definitely very different from Korea, but I'm trying to take Shanghai on its own terms without constantly comparing it to Korea.

This, obviously, is not happening. Every time I go to a restaurant, or get on the subway, or even walk along the street I find myself thinking how this would be different in Korea and, sorry Korea, but China is currently winning that fight.

Well, on every front except one: the internet. In Korea, the internet was generally cheap and relatively fast (except if you were trying to watch a youtube video or stream anything. That just doesn't happen in Korea).  Here, however, not only is there the Great Firewall of China to contend with, but there's also something that just feels so very third world about the internet here. At least here in my hotel (and also in the Starbucks down the road). Occasionally sites will load on command, but more often they have immense difficulty loading even the simplest .jpegs. What's worse, though, is that the internet will just cut out and decide that you've loaded one too many pages in a given time period and refuse to load any more for the next 5 or 10 minutes. Which is just great fun, given that my internet-induced ADD leads me to often have 5 or 6 browser tabs open at any given moment.

The Great Firewall itself is proving to be as problematic to me as it was to the Mongol hoards. Apparently it's going to take a far stronger VPN than I had initially planned to get around, so I'll probably in the end wind up paying for one following Chinese rules for internet browsing. I NEEDS MY FACEBOOKS AND I NEEDS THEM NOW.

In the Becoming A Real Person In Shanghai front, I went to the school location yesterday, which happens to be in a crazy ritzy part of Shanghai (in the Pudong area across the river). So I'll go from teaching in a pretty poor area of Korea to a pretty rich area in one of the richest cities in China. Exciting. Also, apparently, our school is some sort of Model Location or whatever, which means that the bigwigs from corporate come by from time to time to observe/bother us. Hurrah.

More pressing, though, is the housing search. Debating whether to have roommates or not, finding a neighborhood, and ultimately finding an apartment that I can actually live in is apparently not the easiest thing. But people have done it before in Shanghai, and I've found apartments in Washington DC, so in theory I should be able to find a place to live. It'll just hopefully be sooner rather than later. Side note: if anyone happens to know of apartments in the Jing'an or Huangpu areas of Shanghai for less than RMB4000/month, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. THX.

I'll keep you guys posted on the living/working/internet situation, assuming I do not suffer a nervous breakdown stemming from facebook withdrawal in the near future.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Ugh FINALLY he's posting

After having been thoroughly put to shame by my friend, who just had a friggin baby (btw, CONGRATS) and is still blogging, I felt it was time to update the interwebs on how my life has been going.

The short answer: it's been busy. I think I last left you guys in mid-February, when I was still at Hwaseong Elementary in Korea. Well great news! I'm not there anymore! I flew back to the States on March 7, following a whirlwind of good-bye parties (both wanted and unwanted), packing, giving away things, and transferring money.

And actually, as it turns out, NOT transferring money. See, I had been told by my school that my severance pay and deposit refund would not be paid to me until the next payday. Which would fall after I left Korea. So I didn't think, on the day I was running my bank errands (which naturally had to be left to the last business day I was in Korea), to check my balance. So I missed the many millions of won that needed to vacate my account so I could have the money sent to America. Fortunately, though, I have some fantastically helpful friends and the money made it to my American bank account.

Back at home, things were just a whirl of wind. Visits from family, awkward KISS concerts, and a week spent running around the Washington, DC area. One of the things you quickly learn when living the long-distance lifestyle is just how little time you really have with your friends and family when you do get to see them. It never seems like it's enough, and someone is always going to feel screwed over because you couldn't spend enough time with them. And that pretty much sucks. It takes someone with far greater planning and scheduling skills than I to juggle everyone properly and appropriately manage expectations. I guess the moral of the story is PEOPLE COME VISIT ME. I LIVE IN COOL PLACES.

But now I'm sitting on my parents' couch with my bags packed yet again, preparing for departure to Asia. It was a little more than 13 months ago that I left for Korea, and while I'm nervous now, it doesn't compare to how I felt back then. I'm pretty sure I can handle this, and most of what I'm feeling is excited.  Well, that and hungry. Time for my last dinner in America! For the next year, anyway...

See you in Shanghai!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A post of convenience

Just because I like you all SO MUCH, I have decided to combine for you here, in link format, all my posts from the vacation in chronological format. So have fun! Click around! Relive the magic! You won't be sorry! Though you might be! Especially if it makes you sad you missed the trip!

The layover in Shanghai

The terrifying LCCT in Kuala Lumpur

I'm on a beach!

GERMANS! Cover your shame!

A near death experience

Cambodia (here I started to get lazy)

Malaysia is an...interesting country

Travel tips

Photo dump

Also, in case any of you are interested in recreating the journey (or at least looking for places to stay), here's what we did:

First night in Kuala Lumpur: The Burger King in KLIA
First night in Bangkok: Convenient Resort (near Suvarnobhumi Airport)
Phuket: Two Chefs Bungalows - Kata Beach
Bangkok: Soi 1 Guesthouse Bangkok
Cambodia: Borann Hotel, Siem Reap
Kuala Lumpur: Swiss Inn Hotel Kuala Lumpur

Flights to/from Kuala Lumpur via China Eastern Airlines; Flight to Bangkok, Phuket, and Siem Reap to KL on Air Asia. Phuket to Bangkok: minibus to Surat Thani, overnight sleeper train to Bangkok. Bangkok to Siem Reap: train Bangkok to Aranyaprathet (Thai border), tuk-tuk to the border crossing (Poipet, Cambodia). Taxi from Poipet to Siem Reap.

Photo dump!

And now for some photos from the vacay...(WARNING: These may be largely boring landscape shots. DEAL.)

Finally! A real beer.
And delicious pad thai, natch...
Beautiful, warm, Kata beach in Phuket
Our lovely island hotel/restaurant
Photos of photos with beautiful scenery (Ko Phi Phi)
Beware of Train!
Bangkok: ancient meets modern.
Great city. Probably my favorite in Asia so far.
Monopoly money (clockwise from dollars): US Dollars, Malaysian Ringgit, Thai Baht, Japanese Yen, Korean Won, Cambodian Riel
Angkor Wat (as well as the next few photos)

Our fixies to ride around the grounds.
Our driver, Mr. Ya. He's the best.
Oh noes! Sharia law has infect McDonald's! RUN!!!
Happy Lunar New Year!
Golden Lion dance. For the New Year/Luck/whatever.
Petronas Towers: They're really big.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Final thoughts on travel

A few final thoughts on travelling, bulletted out for you. Hooray listicles!

  • Hotels in SE Asia can be fantastically cheap. The hotels we stayed at in Phuket and Siem Reap, in particular, were AMAZING and still dirt cheap. I think the most we ever paid per night per person was $25. So if you're going to this area of the world, don't feel like you have to cheap out and stay in a hostel. You can, but nice hotels are out there and are very affordable.
  • Don't try to pack to much in a vacation. Especially one as long as mine was. It was great, and I don't regret seeing any of the things I got to see, but having done so much and gone to so many places, by the time I got to Kuala Lumpur - I was just exhausted. Honestly, if that hotel had had a pool, I am not sure I would have ever left. And I would have been just fine with that. Too much travel is tiring, physically and mentally. Pick one or two places and stick with those.
  • Choice of travelling companions is so very important. You really do need to take along people who have similar styles to you, otherwise you might spend your entire time bickering about what to do next. Fortunately, we were generally okay enough to go it alone if we wanted to do something a little different, or if we were getting slowed up by the stragglers in the posse. It worked out well for us...make sure it will work out for you!
  • There's this bizarre notion of "cultural authenticity" that a lot of people have. For example, when I mentioned that I would be visiting Bangkok, someone told me that it was "just like any other city" and "not authentically Thai." Which kind of took me aback a little bit - there are 9.1 million people in the city itself, of whom about 8.7 million are ethnically Thai. I'm sorry, did they somehow lose their citizenship or culture by moving to/being born in a city? This way of thinking - that something in Thailand can be somehow "inauthentic" - is pretty problematic. It's kind of a colonialist notion, really, demanding a sort of disney-esque "noble savage" caricature of what life in some Foreign Land is like. But here's the dirty secret: Thais drink Starbucks. Malaysians go to the mall. Koreans eat at McDonald's. And none of these people are any less products of their homelands for it. They are probably different than the generation before who did not do these things, but it is pretty belittling to them and to their countries' economic successes to tell them that by going to Starbucks or McDonald's or buying Apple products they are somehow betraying their cultural heritage. We live in a globalized world. Some things are everywhere. Deal with it.
  • In that vein, if you want to go to McDonald's or Starbucks while on vacation, don't feel like you can't because you can do that at home or because of some notion that you should completely any American-based company while on vacation. One of the most fascinating things that I find when traveling anywhere is just how different we all still are, despite being the same. And the places where these differences are most apparent tend to be the places most indicative of globalization, i.e., the ubiquitous fast-food chains. But go in them! Look at the menu! See how the franchise has adapted its menu to suit the location and be reminded that yes, we all are different, but yes, we all love to consume things. It's quite amazing.
  • As much as it pains me to say this, English is really the most important language you could know while traveling. On this trip, just about everyone we encountered, from the service professionals to the airline staff to cab drivers and street vendors and even other tourists spoke English to one degree or another. As important as it is to learn other languages (and it IS very important to learn other languages), it's not the end of the world if the only language you speak is English. Especially in Southeast Asia, you're pretty much guaranteed to find people who also speak English and can help you.
  • Most importantly, have fun! Experience your trip. Don't hide behind the camera, don't hide in your hotel room. Say yes to new experiences. Hugs not drugs. Hit the books because they don't hit back. Other cliches. Mostly, enjoy. Vacations are about giving you a break, so do things that will make you happy. Don't feel obliged to do something you don't want to do, unless you are a child, in which case please listen to your parent and generally don't act like an ass. Remember, there are other people on vacation too. Don't ruin theirs.