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 little, my favorite movie was “Big Bird Goes to China.” I must have watched it several dozen times, because I can still recite a song the giant yellow bird sings about learning Chinese. Serious props to my parents for dealing with that.
I loved the movie not only because of my obsession with Sesame Street, but because of the curiosity it evoked. Everything seemed so foreign, so different. I couldn’t believe that those landscapes, the buildings and the people belonged to the same planet where I lived. And, like most children, I dreamt about digging a tunnel and winding up on the Great Wall of China.
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.
I can’t believe I waited so long to go. Especially after living and traveling around Asia for five years. But, I’m happy to report that it was everything I hoped it would be–a week of sunshine and bliss.
First, I apologize for posting an article about an ice festival just one week before April, but I’ve been busy. Actually, I’m still busy. So this is why you’re getting a photo essay.
But before I dump my SD card on you, here’s some background: The Harbin Ice Festival has been going on annually for about 17 years, and is now one of the biggest in the world. It’s made up of three snow and ice sculpture parks, and goes from the end of December through February.
Where is Harbin, you ask? It’s in China. More specifically, Northeast China. It was once a sleepy fishing village, until 1897 when Russians settled and built what is now known as the Trans-Siberian Railway. So besides being a place to see cool ice sculptures, it’s also a way to soak up some Russian culture in China. Continue reading
Last year, I had the opportunity to explore Shanghai by night, with food tour company, UnTour.
We spent more than three hours gorging ourselves with noodles, soups, a variety of meats, root vegetables, crayfish, scallops, fruit puddings, and anything we could find, served on a stick. The guides took us through the history of Chinese street food, and led us through a labyrinth of vendors.
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.The city was sprawling, dusty and noisy. The humidity was thick and the air hot. Rain water pooled in the pot holes littering the roads.
When I first started planning my trip to Myanmar, I spent hours pouring over the Google Image search results. Pictures of mist-covered mountains dotted with ancient temples were first to pop up, followed by the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda in the country’s capital. I had seen these images before. Heck, they were the reason I was making the trip to Burma in the first place.
But as I continued to scroll down the pages, I began to see another part of the country–a lesser-known part. Pictures of aged fisherman standing on the ledge of wooden boats, women and children poking their heads through windows of stilt houses, and rolling green hills that seemed to touch the sky.
It was 6am when the overnight bus reached the ancient city of Bagan. The passengers around me began to rustle–reaching for bags and shedding layers of warm clothing. I rubbed my eyes and looked out the window. Taxi drivers had already crowded the door, and the sky was growing pink.
It had been nine fitful hours of attempted sleep, but it didn’t matter. I had arrived to the place that topped my bucket list for the last five years—one of the world’s greatest archeological sites—16-square miles of pastoral land, decorated with more than 2,000 Buddhist monuments.
I jumped in the first cab I saw and headed to the hostel. And after a quick shower, I rented an electric bike and spent the next two days exploring.
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.