Saturday, February 28, 2015

Photo of the Week 7: MoMA

My favorite painting that I have seen thus far, Starry Night by Van Gogh.
Sorry this is not a picture of some crazy adventure I went on, but rather an old painting by some Dutch guy. 

Actually, this painting is far more important than that. It's one of the most well-known pieces of Post-Impressionist work in the entire world.

From the first moment I saw a duplicate of this painting, I was captivated by Van Gogh's work. There is so much movement and joy throughout the entire work, how could anyone not fall in love with it? I finally got to see it in person at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and I sat and stared at it for about half an hour. Being an incredibly famous work, it was surrounded by a crowd the entire time. Luckily, I'm tall enough that I can stand in the back and still see it. This was definitely a highlight of my solo time in NYC!

Here are a few more beautiful pieces I had the chance to see:

2015 Chinese New Year, Part 2

Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan is kind of a big deal. There were so many different events, it would have been impossible to go to them all. There are quite a few fantastic videos on YouTube that help show the craziness and beauty of the event. So I thought I would share some:

The above video shows a traditional lion dance.
It's high-spirited, fun to watch, and incredible to see in person. 
The people who are under the costumes are incredibly talented!

The video below shows the view of the main festivities area from above. 
You can almost make out how many people were there, but it looks like pretty much the entire population is crammed on that beach.

For anyone living or traveling in Thailand at the time of the Chinese New Year, you should come to Nakhon Sawan for the event! There are different things going on every about two weeks. The entire city is decorated, you see lions and dragons roaming the streets at random times, and the night and day parades are experiences that everyone should have. The city is easily accessible by train, bus, and minivan, and is only about three hours north of Bangkok.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Photo of the Week 6: Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan

Matt, Ruth, Nici, Jay, Craig and myself.
So,  I was in a parade this week for Chinese New Year. There have been small parades every day for the past week, and our school, Anuban, was featured on Wednesday. The above picture was taken at the end, and I think it's a lovely team photo--I especially love the festive lanterns in the background! A group of six foreigners marching in the parade was just as much of an attraction as the fiery dragon and dancing ladies. There were stares, and gasps, and photos galore--Nakhon Sawan is a small city, so people are not very used to seeing foreigners around. The parade was a huge photo opportunity, so I posed for many, many pictures with complete strangers!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2015 Chinese New Year, Part 1

Happy Chinese New year! In 2015, the new year falls on Thursday, February 19, so it is technically tomorrow. Celebrations have been under way for well over week, so I'll say it early! 

The city in Thailand I live in, Nakhon Sawan, is kind of famous for its celebrations on Chinese New Year. Decorations like lanterns have been up for a few weeks, businesses are putting up more lights and bigger decorations every day, and tourists are pouring into the city.

I have been impressed by the huge amount of thought and work that has gone into the holiday. The temple near my apartment is the main site of the festivities, and the street leading up to it is lined by fair-like stalls where you can play games to win prizes. Inside the temple, there is a gigantic market set up with every food imaginable, clothing, and little trinkets. There are even rides for the children. In the streets around the temple, there are Chinese-style temples that have been set up just for this event, and there are gigantic sticks of incense burning at all times. There are stages that have Chinese plays and operas showing. It's like a carnival!

The first time I've seen the temple lit up like this.

Some of the fair games and prizes.

Mmmm, delicious insect buffet.

These are the massive incense sticks that were burning, with a temporary Chinese temple in the background.
The sticks were about eight feet tall.

One of the many stages.
Even better than that, there is a massive set-up on the beach by the river. There is a giant golden Buddha in the middle of it all, surrounded by Chinese lanterns, statues, and a stage that has a different performance every night. It was amazing to just walk around, look at all of the different things that had been set up, and watch the stage performances.

Below are a few pictures of what the stage performance was last weekend. There were lion dances, which basically consist of a two boys under the lion costume. The dances were beautiful, and it was amazing how they were able to make them come alive. The lions danced, flicked their ears, showed emotion, and even blinked! There was also an acrobatic show on the stage, where the kids were stacked up four high! It was incredible to see, although I must admit that my heart stopped a little bit in fear for someone falling.

A lion dance, ALWAYS led by a man with a giant face!

So. Many. People.

Acrobats! How amazing is this?

Seriously astounding.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spring 2015 Travel Itinerary

So, one of the main reasons that I took this job in Thailand was for the incredible perk of paid vacation! Coming up, I have off from mid-March to mid-May. I have two months without any work responsibilities! I will, however, still be taking graduate school classes, so I do have some responsibilities. By the way, I will graduate by the end of September if all goes according to plan, squeeeee!

I thought I would just try to keep everyone in the loop as to what they can expect to see on the blog in the future. Here's a list of where I'm planning to go and some of the things that I am looking forward to seeing in the near future:

1. South Korea, March 17-31. I know, I already lived here for a year. I know, there are plenty of other countries in Asia that I haven't seen that I should go visit. But this place is my home away from home, where I learned how to cope with culture shock and living in a place that was completely foreign and how to make new friends. And a lot of those friends are still there, so I am beyond excited to visit. My friend Libby is also flying out from Minnesota to join in a soju and galbi-fueled magical two weeks!

I'm excited for Korean bbq...

...and bright, Korean-style temples....

...and seeing lots of these beautiful mugs again!
2. Japan, March 31-April 11. I have also already been to Japan, but the trip was such a whirlwind that I feel the need to go back. Last time I stayed in Kyoto and took a day trip to Hiroshima. I discovered the Japan Rail Pass, which will allow me to travel around the country quite inexpensively. The pass will pay for itself as long as I take at least two journeys, which I plan to do. I'm super excited to be there during peak cherry blossom time, so expect tons of pictures of that! I will use the train to travel around for about a week (definitely to Kyoto, Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Fukuoka), and then I will be flying to Okinawa for several days. During World War II, my grandfather was stationed here in the Navy. While I am sure that things have changed quite a bit since he was there, I have always been fascinated by the idea of going there. I am happy to have the chance to show him pictures of what the island looks like today!

Mmm, sushi. Admittedly, this picture was taken in South Korea. But it's still sushi!

Also taken in Korea. But the chef was trained in Japan, so it's authentic, right? RIGHT?
3. Taiwan, April 11-16. I'm excited to try authentic xiaolongbao. I first sampled this in South Korea, when a friend brought me to a restaurant in Gangnam to sample these soup dumplings (thanks again, Zelri!). The restaurant was a chain that started in Taiwan, so I always associate this dish with that country. They are absolutely amazing, and I am practically drooling as I write this.

4. Hong Kong, April 16-22. Dim sum. I want it. I will eat all of it! (Have you yet recognized that food is a major part of the reason that I travel?) Even though it's pretty much the same thing as xiaolongbao, I'm still going to be excited for it. I also cannot wait to view the city lights from the high point in the city, Victoria Peak. I have been looking at thousands of pictures from this view, and am hoping to still be blown away by it in person.

5. Singapore, April 22-27. In all honesty, I can't name what I am looking forward to the most from this country. It is a place very clean and modern, and the only thing I can really say about it with certainty off the top of my head is that chewing gum is illegal. But seriously, it is...unless you are chewing for therapeutic reasons. Seems a bit like the laws pertaining to marijuana in the States, which just seems a bit outlandish. There are also a few other strange laws to watch out for.

6. Indonesia, April 27-May 3. I am wicked excited for this stop because I will get to see my friend from Wisconsin, Terceira! She is working in Cirebon, Indonesia in the Peace Corps right now. She has graciously offered to come meet me in the capital city, and I can't wait to spend time with a friend that I've known for years (since I lived in Milwaukee, actually). One of the things that I will definitely be doing here is visiting a volcano. It's on my 30 under 30 list!

7. Back to Thailand, May 3! School doesn't begin again until the 18th, but there is still so much that I have not seen in the country! I plan to go down to one of the islands, Koh Tao, and get my SCUBA diving license. The rest depends upon how well I can follow my budget. I look forward to getting a better look at my new home!

Excited to be on the road again, seeing a new country from the sky!
(I took this flying into either Spain or Italy, I can't remember.)

About the Budget: I'm hoping to keep to a budget of about $30 a day. Plane tickets will not be included in this budget, and they have already been paid for. Housing will be my greatest expense, and I'm hoping to try my hand at Couchsurfing for the for the first time. For those not in the know, this is a site where people allow complete strangers into their home--to crash on a couch, the floor, or spare bedroom--in return for a bit of conversation. I have heard fantastic things about this, and am quite excited to meet some new people in different cities.

If I can manage to bring down housing costs, I am absolutely sure I can stick to the budget. Typical expenses would include food, transportation, and entrance to attractions like temples and museums. Easy peasy. No five course meals, using public transportation (because it is always cheaper than a taxi), and a minimal amount of drinking will help me curb expenses. This means I'll be doing a huge amount of research before I go--finding walking tours, looking for what days museums may waive their entrance fees, and the best free things to see in each country. I'll keep you informed as to how the budgeting is going throughout the travels!

So wish me luck! I'm having fun planning this wild adventure, but I would also appreciate any advice about my destinations or the whole Couchsurfing project. Can't wait to share my adventures!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Photo of the Week 5: Missing Friends

Myself, Libby, and Anika. Fun fact: I will be seeing Libby
again VERY soon. She is meeting me in South Korea in
mid-March, and I could not be more excited!
One thing that I have learned throughout my travels is the importance of having good friends by your side. I have traveled solo for much of my stint in Asia, and sometimes it is very difficult to make new friends. Moving to an entirely new place is especially difficult because I need to find new friends that I would hang out with by choice rather than simply by circumstance. They can't be the fleeting friends-for-a-day that I typically find in hostels, and it's hard to find people that have similar tastes and are in the same state of mind. So one thing that I missing quite a bit right now is my friends from back home. No matter how boring a place might be, friends can make it fun; on the flip side, no matter how exotic of a place I might live, I need good friends to make it interesting! So, um, yeah, here are just a few pictures of me with friends that I've been looking at in an attempt to get rid of homesickness!

Jamie, myself, Emily (photobombing) and Jessica. Some of my favorite ladies ever!

So much happening! I love this picture.

Myself and Erin. I have no idea why I look so sad, we always have great times together!

Always partners in crime. Look at these mischievous mugs!

Rocking out, air band style, at one of our infamous Pub outings.

Eric, Ryne, Kerry and me. Such beauty in one picture! ;)

Myself and Rachel. I miss this lady!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Photo of the Week 4: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Over the New Year holiday, I was lucky enough to visit Chiang Mai. It's in the northern part of Thailand, and has a reputation for being one of the coolest cities in the country. I definitely enjoyed my time in this place, and one of the most amazing things about it was the massive amount of temples. 

Above is a picture at one of my favorites, Wat Chedi Luang. I don't think that you can really see how massive this spire is from the picture, but it is incredibly impressive in person. This wat (the Thai word for "temple") is a Buddhist temple located in the middle of the historic square in the city. It was built during the 14th century, and its claim to fame is that it once housed the Emerald Buddha. The structural damage that you can see is from a massive 16th-century earthquake. It has since been named a UNESCO World Heritage site, and restorations have been made with the help of funding from both the Japanese government and Unesco.

Below are a few more candids from the trip. It being the new year, the temples were amply decorated as many people stopped by to make merit. They were all quite beautiful, and it was a surprise to see the temples decorated so much!

A little bit of my favorite food in the world, some Indian curry.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Thai Children's Day

A popular holiday that exists in Southeast Asia is Children's Day. As far as I am aware, this is not a thing in the US, and I found it to be quite unusual when I first encountered it in South Korea. In Thailand. the holiday is always on the second Saturday in January. In Thai, it is called wan dek. It's a day to let children have fun while promoting awareness of how important they are to the future of the country. But mostly, it's about having fun!

Although the holiday is officially on Saturday, our school decided to celebrate a little bit early. Classes were cancelled for half of the day for all of the students, and they were allowed to roam about through the different activities and games that had been planned for them. The younger classes celebrated before lunch, the older classes celebrated after lunch. There were tons of snacks, and even a talent show in the activity hall. The show was quite elaborate--it was called "Anuban's Got Talent," and it had judges and trophies for the top acts. It was mayhem!

At the start of the day, the kids lined up on either side of one of the "roads" that goes through our school to give the monks alms (an act of charity, in which people donate food or water to a temple or monk). Buddhism is the main religion here in Thailand, and it looked like everyone had brought something to give to the monks. People typically give rice, water, or other staple food items as alms.

After that, the fun commenced!

The gigantic slide was a hit amongst Grade 1!
The entrance cartoon character is Doraemon, who is immensely popular in Asia!

Look at that line!

Next up, knock over the cans.

A bit of darts.

Of course, a real-life Angry Birds game was a part of the festivities. It looked like a lot of fun!

The Play-Doh station was quite popular.

This group of kindergarten boys were B-Boy dancers.
They were incredibly adorable dancing to "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction.
They even won a trophy!