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.

 

Hongyadong

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Hongyadong, or Hongya cave, is an architectural oddity and key landmark of Chongqing.  Though it is a modern building, it has been built to resemble traditional Chinese market halls.  Each floor boasts a series of winding, narrow walkways filled with shops, restaurants, and stalls selling everything from carved wooden Buddhas to Dairy Queen Blizzards.

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As an aside, there is a rumor that Hongyadong inspired the bathhouse featured in Spirited Away.  I don’t think I buy it, but I do see the resemblance, which only made it feel more magical to walk through.

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As you move to the upper floors, you can take in excellent views of the Chongqing Bridge as well as the meeting point of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers.  It was lovely enough by day, but the view becomes even more spectacular at night, when the whole city lights up.

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While we enjoyed the luminescent skyline, we decided to try the local specialty – hot pot.  Hot pot is a sort of spicy fondue, except instead of cheese, everything is cooked in hot chili oil.  It was pretty tasty (great with a cold beer!), but definitely not a quick meal, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re hangry.

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After dinner, we walked along the bridge to get a view of Hongyadong from the river.  This was easily the highlight of our visit.  I’ll let the photos do the talking here.

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It is a nice change of pace to be living in a city with so much to do and see.  I’m looking forward to more local adventures.

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Nihao, Chongqing.

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We’ve officially been in China for two weeks and my head is definitely still spinning.

In a nutshell…the city is huge, the food is spicy, the weather is very hot, I am still processing a lot of information from our orientation, I start teaching next week, I also start my own classes next week, I optimistically joined a gym…and…that’s it so far.

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Though we have been spending most of our time working, settling in, and trying to prepare for classes, we have tried to get out and explore this gigantic city a bit.  We walked through the Expo Gardens (didn’t even scratch the surface on that place) for a bit of exercise one afternoon and we recently took a taxi into the city center to get a feel for some of the main squares.

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I am very happy to report that I LOVE our new apartment and there is plenty to do in our neighborhood, including a fabulous gym and a great local cafe that sells good coffee and craft beers.  It’s only a five minute walk to grab groceries, which is LIFE-CHANGING after living in the middle of nowhere in Turkey.

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It is still taking some time to get used to everything being unfamiliar again.  The language, culture, and landscape are all still alien to me, so I am looking forward to getting to know it all better.

Here’s to a new adventure.

 

Another American Summer

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Kansas sunsets really are the prettiest.

Greetings from China!

Yes, we are here and settling in, but before I talk about that, I feel compelled to talk about our hectic, brief summer in the U.S.

We knew this summer would be unpredictable.  International moves always are.  I’ve learned by now that the visa process is usually one big question mark until it isn’t.  It makes it difficult to plan much because everything has to revolve around the visa timeline and (of course!) you can’t make appointments.

Amidst the chaos of moving from Turkey to the U.S. and then packing again for China, 5 weeks of rapid couchsurfing around Kansas, and going to Chicago for our visas, we did manage to enjoy ourselves a bit.

Indulge me as I go through the highlight reel:

img_20190801_134339Hanging out with my grandma’s adorable cats!

img_20190801_134316Eating my grandma’s peanut butter pie!

img_20190710_150803Enjoying a beautiful Chicago summer with my partner in crime while we waited for our visas to be processed

img_20190711_130659Trying aerial yoga for the first time (loved it!)

 

img_20190723_155126Childhood treats

img_20190726_115942Reminiscing

img_20190727_192935_1Drinking wine in the Flint Hills

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Drinking more wine…this time from the wine box we sealed at our wedding.  As it was our 5th wedding anniversary, we got to open this bottle and replace it with another (to be opened on our 10th.)

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Saying goodbye (for now) to the U.S. and hello (or nihao, rather) to a new adventure.

 

So there you have it.  A very brief recap of an all-too-brief summer.  More to come on China soon!

Görüşürüz, Türkiye.

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As I type this, I am sitting in my grandmother’s air conditioned house on a hot Kansas afternoon, trying to find the right words.  To be honest, I still haven’t processed it all yet.  Leaving Turkey felt like stepping through a portal from one universe to another.  There is a piece of me that still thinks it will all be there waiting for me exactly as I left it, even though my head knows I won’t be going back for quite some time.

I didn’t sleep the night before I left.  The day was filled with tearful goodbyes to students, colleagues, and dear friends, followed by an epic Turkish party at night.  We were packing until the very last second.  I wouldn’t have left any other way.

I am so tremendously thankful for the memories, the people, and the life-changing experiences.

Her şey için teşekkürler, Türkiye.  Sizi özleyeceğim.

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Notes from the Happiest Country on Earth

img_20190605_173151-1We had one last vacation on our calendar this school year – the bayram, marking the end of Ramadan.  This, we knew, would be our last vacation in Europe for a while.  We had considered staying in Turkey, but because it was a holiday, the prices were outrageous and we figured most cities would be quite crowded.  Instead, we opted for a quick getaway to Copenhagen.

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We did not want to do too much to be honest, as we have been doing practically nothing but packing lately.  We decided not to make any specific plans and just wander around the city at our leisure.

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We got extremely lucky with the weather.  So lucky, in fact, that I managed to get sunburnt.  We spent the first day wandering the adorable streets, grabbing a quick dinner, checking out the craft beer scene, and trying to avoid being run over by crazy cyclists.

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On our second day, we made the trek out to Reffen, a very awesome, very hipster food paradise full of little stalls with everything from Mexican to Nepalese food.  We tried just about everything we had room for and all of it was spectacular.

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Day 3 was rainy and a bit cold, so we spent most of our time wandering a new neighborhood and taking shelter in random cafes.  We were both perfectly content to reflect on our travels in Europe these past four years while sipping on espressos and people watching.

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It doesn’t surprise me one bit that people in Denmark are so happy.  Good food everywhere, Aperol Spritz parties in the streets, solid emphasis on regular physical activity (bicycles everywhere!), and whimsical buildings.

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Although I am looking forward to a change, I will certainly miss being so close to Europe.  Quaint streets, punctuality, organization, charming architecture, amazing wine…what’s not to love?

 

Reflections

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Super duper jet-lagged baby expats!

Here I am, down to less than a month in this place that has been my home for four years.  Four years goes by fast.

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4 years later, learning to blend in

I have already started packing and downsizing.  My upstairs neighbors (a.k.a the dorm girls) gleefully took several bags of clothes off of my hands.  I am done planning lessons for the year.  My exams are printed and ready.  Not much is left to do here but prepare to say goodbye.

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I know I haven’t written much this year.  I haven’t felt very inspired. The last year and a half or so in Turkey has been a little rough – ever since the economic downturn and resultant chaos at our school took its toll.  We are leaving a little burnt out, but I don’t want what has happened at the end to tarnish four years of amazing memories.

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I’ve been taking all the photos off of our computers and hard drives and organizing them to prepare for the next big move.  Looking through them, I can see how much we have grown.  We haven’t aged much (we both look young for our age), but there is a difference in our eyes.  I came here as a fresh new teacher, naive and ready for adventure; I am leaving this place a wiser, savvier, stronger, braver, more worldly and more confident person than I ever believed I could be when I first stepped off of that plane.

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When I really reflect, all I can feel is gratitude.  I am ten times the teacher I was when I first came thanks to the experiences I had here.  I know I can step into my next position with confidence.  I got to work with incredible students that I love dearly and will keep in touch with for years to come.  I made amazing friends – who are really more like family at this point- without whom I never would have survived as an expat.   I learned how to operate with a new set of rules in a new culture and learned a new language to boot.  I traveled to over 30 countries on three different continents with the love of my life.

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Yes, I am happy to be leaving.  I am ready to move on.  But I will always be grateful we said yes to Turkey, even when many people thought we were crazy.  I could not have asked for a more beautiful country, full of countless treasures and wonders, with amazing food, and more importantly, amazing people to begin this journey I have always dreamed of.

11218870_1660003807547814_8920917322430442324_nThese last few weeks are going to be emotional, if you couldn’t tell.