Where to even begin…

It’s been almost a year since I’ve written anything….probably because I’ve been grappling with the nightmare that is COVID-19 for about as much time. Having just stepped out of Turkey, which – although a lovely place- was in the grips of economic downturn and political turmoil, we had hoped China would be an era of stability for us. Turns out we were really, really wrong.

Four months in, at the peak of culture shock and just before a much-anticipated Chinese New Year break, the news of a deadly epidemic was spreading like wildfire. Reluctantly, we went on our scheduled vacation to Japan…just days before we were to return, our school and the American embassy sent out a warning not to come back. What was supposed to be two weeks turned into to three months of e-learning, running out one visa and then another (we stayed in Thailand for about a month and a half and in Cambodia for a month). We were dealing with a school that was giving as little information as possible; one day, they would say “don’t come back to China” and the next they would say “buy a ticket and come back now!” When we did eventually go back, we endured a horrific quarantine, replete with anti-foreigner sentiment, being separated from my husband without being informed in advance, and not being fed or given water consistently for the first several days. The whole experience ruined China for me, frankly, which has been hard to deal with after falling in love with being an expat in Turkey.

To add insult to injury, just two weeks after we finally made it back home to Chongqing, my husband and I were laid off for the following school year, along with several other staff members due to declining enrollment.

I didn’t love the school or Chongqing, but it still felt like a punch to the gut. We really only had two choices: take another job in China, or go back to the U.S. to figure things out and be with our families. In the end, we chose the latter. Neither of us could really take much more of China or its schools.

And now here we are in America…which really can’t seem to get its shit together in this pandemic. We had initially toyed with the idea of teaching here, but seeing how political schools have become in all this -using teachers and students as sacrificial lambs for the economy- we just decided to take a year off and live off of our savings. It isn’t ideal, but we are lucky to have that option.

We’ve been back home in Kansas for about four months now, and it’s been pretty boring for the most part. But boring hasn’t been all bad after over a year of frequent turmoil.

All I can hope is that next year will be better.

2019

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January

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February

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March

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April

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May

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June

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July

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August

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September

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October

 

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November

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December

2019 has been a strange year.  A year of change, transition, ups, and downs.  A year I’m ready to let go, but a year to remember nonetheless.  I am hoping 2020 is a little more settled, a little more cheerful, but no less adventurous.  Happy New Year.

Paradise in Phuket

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First term has come and gone.  I can hardly believe it.

Back in Turkey, we spent most of our fall breaks in cold European cities, trying to find traces of autumn that would remind us of home.  This year, we took a different approach, instead opting for summery island paradise.  While I still long for colorful leaves and pumpkin spice everything, I can’t say I minded spending a week on the beach.

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In the end, I had pumpkin spice anyway. 

Adjusting to a new job and a new country is exhausting; often, so is traveling.  We didn’t want to put too many expectations on our first vacation after a couple of stressful months, so we kept it low key:  1) Hotel by the beach 2) No plans.

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Days went by with nothing but swimming, lounging on the beach, drinking out of coconuts, sipping on a few beers, and eating delicious Thai food.  In other words, paradise.

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After several joyful lazy days, we decided it was worth our while to book a tour and explore more of the island.  We joined a half-day Phuket city tour and were the only ones who booked it, so we ended up getting a private tour for the same price as the group tour.  Score!

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Our first stop was Big Buddha, a monument dedicated to Buddha that overlooks the whole island and can be seen from most of it.  As if the statue itself wasn’t enough of an attraction, the views from its platform were stunning.

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Also, monkeys!

Stop #2 was Chalong Temple, which was also gorgeous.

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Last but not least, we had a couple of hours to explore Old Phuket Town, which is a delightful neighborhood full of beautiful pastel buildings, cool cafes, and interesting shops.

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This rainbow building was my fave.

In the end, I may have had one too many Singha beers, bought more souvenirs than I really needed, and definitely left with a sunburn, but I can’t recommend Phuket enough.  Is it touristy?  Very.  Is it fun? Absolutely.  The Thai people are wonderful, kind, and friendly and English is widely spoken.  The food is cheap, plentiful, and delicious.  There is literally something for every kind of traveler, whether you want to be a beach bum, hike, or party until you drop.  We chose to stay in Kata Beach, which is a quieter part of the island more suited to couples and families to avoid some of the more obnoxious crowds.

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I left feeling refreshed, relieved at having survived my first couple of months in China, and excited to explore more of Thailand in the future.