Why the hell would anyone want to go to North Korea? This is a question my parents posed, and even my students, as I told them my husband and I were heading to its capital to participate in the annual marathon.
The short answer: curiosity. While living in Seoul, I had the opportunity to listen to stories from several North Korean refugees. How they escaped through China, how they left behind loved ones, and how they lived in a constant state of fear. I remember feeling completely ignorant, as I knew nothing about the country other than the fact they harbored nuclear warheads.
When I was a little girl, I used to sit in front of my parents’ TV for hours, singing along to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. “Bali Ha’i may call you, Any night, any day, In your heart, you’ll hear it call you: Come away…Come away.”
This siren song, while technically not about the idyllic Indonesian island of Bali, played in my mind long after the glow of the television screen had dimmed. And in my dreams, visions of rice terraces, palm trees and temples appeared–the waves washing over me.
There’s something about the word Mandalay that made me want to go to the city before I knew anything about it. Man-da-lay. The sound of it, the way it rolls off the tongue. I pictured a lazy river town, blanketed in rolling fog, with men steering Burmese-style gondolas against the background of mossy-green mountains. A painting come to life. But like most places I romanticize, Mandalay was far from what I imagined. Continue reading
I remember the first time I saw a picture of Bagan—a misty green landscape, dotted with pagodas and temples, as far as the eye could see. Hot air balloons floated in the distance, among the mountains. It was a place that looked as if it was conceived by someone’s imagination—as if it came from a beautiful dream. I had to go there.
Every year in China, the Mid-Autumn Festival allows me a week off of work at the beginning of October. It’s not much, but with flights connecting in Kunming, a trip to Myanmar is doable. You just have to plan.
I decided to spend 1 night in Yangon, 2 nights in Bagan, 3 nights in Inle Lake and 1 night in Mandalay. It was a lot to cram into 7 nights, but it was worth it.
I’ve lived in quite a few apartments over the years–thirteen to be exact. I’ve lived in studios, junior one-bedrooms, a house, even a sorority house. I’ve rented places in Florida, Washington, D.C., Seoul, and Bogota. So I thought finding a place in Shanghai, especially after living here for a year (in school housing) would be no different. I was wrong.
Shanghai is a bustling city, with a population of 25 million. That’s right, I said 25 million. People come here from all over the world for business, as it’s a global financial center and a major transportation hub. Needless to say, hotels are always booked, and realtors make a pretty decent living. There’s some hefty competition for apartments, though, and they go fast. I learned this the hard way. In fact, I learned a lot of things over the last few weeks–about Shanghai, the housing market, and myself. But don’t worry, I’ll save the lessons on personal growth for a phone call with my mother.
Whenever I travel to a non-English-speaking country, I learn several words before arriving: hello, goodbye, thank you and delicious. To me, the last is the most important.
Food tells us a story—from the way it tastes to the people who prepare it. It’s a gateway to understanding a culture and its people. And when you tell someone you enjoy their cooking? Well, you’re not only making their day, but opening a window to a whole new world.
Earlier this week, my friend Matt, a reporter for China Daily, asked me to provide some quotes for an article about life as an expat in Shanghai. I gave him my views on the easy transition and the similarities and contrasts from my time in Colombia. I thought nothing of it and assumed he would weave a line or two into his text; but apparently I was quoted heavily enough to warrant a picture in the paper. Not having anysolo pictures of me galavanting through the streets of China, I scrambled to get something together and asked a coworker, Maja Kelly, to take some photos after work, around the neighborhood.
Growing up in Florida, the word “winter” was never in my vocabulary. Pools were never covered, flip-flops were worn year-round, and the closest thing anyone had resembling a coat was a thin cotton hoodie. Life was good.
Then I moved to Seoul a few years ago and everything changed. Initially, I thought winter lasted a couple of months. I imagined wearing cute boots and petticoats, sticking my tongue out to catch snow flakes. I pictured myself making snow angels with my students. But then I quickly realized: winter sucks. It takes a solid 5-10 more minutes to get dressed in the morning, you can’t feel the snow when it hits your tongue, and making snow angels ruins your hair. As a Floridian, my idea of winter was shattered in about a week.
Writing this from an Internet cafe in Saigon, Vietnam, my hands are still shaking, my neck tense from fear.
Anyone who knows me is well aware of my obsession with Anthony Bourdain. I’ve memorized every episode of No Reservations, feverishly flipped through each of his books, and am anxiously waiting for the day he discovers my blog and insists for me to be his younger, equally-as-charming co-host.
Yes, you read that correctly. Fish guts. And egg sacs. Together. In a bowl.
It’s called Altang, and it’s apparently a pretty popular soup in Korea; although I hadn’t heard of it until last weekend.