Friday, December 16, 2011

Hello, Goodbye!

I love this song (and the Beatles in general). And the title is an appropriate description of my life right now and perhaps life in general.
I am slowly learning that one of the saddest and most exciting parts of life is all the hellos and goodbyes that you have to say. It's why I love traveling and moving--the potential for more "hellos" and meeting more people. But every time there is the prospect of a "hello" it means I must first say "goodbye".

I should perhaps say in interviews when asked "what is your greatest strength": the ability to make anyplace feel like home in a minimal amount of time or adaptability. This skill is what generally makes traveling and moving so effortless for me. I feel as though even a short hotel visit of two nights and I can make that room feel familiar and comfortable. Perhaps it's because usually within five minutes of arrival my belongings have already taken over the room. Perhaps it's my OCD and instinct to immediately create a routine no matter how short my stay is. Perhaps it's my flexible internal clock that generally effortlessly resets itself to local time. And perhaps it's my ability to sleep fairly well in all manner of places--airports, concrete slabs, hard mattresses, floors, futons, bathrooms... All of these traits make moving and traveling fairly simple for me (what's not simple is the packing process--I hate it!). But all of these traits also make leaving difficult.

Because I can adapt so easily, I also get easily attached to the familiarity I've created. Every single place I've ever visited has at least been moderately difficult for me to leave. Even during orientation in Korea, I felt some sadness leaving the familiarity and schedule of the Ramada Inn with my great roommate and the comfort of having a set schedule to follow. Although I knew I would see the people I met there many, many times throughout the upcoming year, and I had lots of unknown things to be excited about, I still felt sad to be leaving a place that I had made my home for a short six days and the longer I stay in a place, the more attached I become. I can recall vividly every single place I have visited, mostly everything I ate, who I met and how they impacted me, what I did and what I loved about that place. In short, I am attached to every place I've been in some way and  feel like I've left a piece of Rachel in each location.

Returning to Darmstadt, Germany for a short visit during my past continent scramble, felt like I was returning home. Familiar foods, stores, restaurants, people and places. It felt comfortable. Well now Botswana feels comfortable and feels like home. Although, I can't say I've met any best friends here or I've done anything life changing, when I leave tomorrow (potentially for good) I will be extremely sad. I will miss lounging by our pool reading, Saturday morning bike rides with a great group of friendly and positive people, Saturday pizza with my dad, 5 am spinning class, chatting with our maid on Wednesdays, laughing about bad customer service, the stunning sunsets and sunrises, seeing cows and donkeys chilling on the side of the road, frequent trips to Woolies and forgetting to bring reusable bags so forcing my dad to carry all the groceries to the car, my bed, and most of all the overall friendliness and laid back attitude of this country.

Saying goodbye is hard. But saying goodbye usually only means that more hellos are waiting in the future and that is what I will be thinking of when Sunday morning, I potentially drive out of Phakalane for the last time. Goodbye Botswana, hello new adventures!   

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Four weeks, seven flights, five cities, three continents, eights beds/futons/couches/mattresses, one wedding and sister-in-law, one almost full passport (no joke here!) and I am back in warm and sunny (well maybe not so sunny now—it’s the rainy season) Botswana. For those of you who are a bit confused about my whereabouts, particularly in the last month here is a visual recap:


And for those of you who keep asking about my life plan. I now I have one! I will be interning with Samaritan’s Purse in Uganda from February to July. Beyond excited, but most importantly feeling extremely thankful. Instead of wasting time with words I will post a few of my favorite photos from this past month and in the spirit of the season I’m thankful for:

Long time and short time friends who provided shelter for me during the past month. I feel incredibly blessed to say with confidence that every place I live I have met amazing, sincere, giving, fun, and loving friends. I’m thankful that these friends are not only generous but also continually inspire me and remind me to make a difference in the world.  I look forward to the many new people in my next destination that I will meet. IMG_0735



My family who has yet to freak out about any of my plans, adventures, and ideas. I’m grateful for both my immediate, extended, and NEW family’s support in all of my endeavors.


I’m thankful for Korea and what it taught me about the beauty of community, about prejudice and racism, the wonderful people I met there and the deeper appreciation for my own country that I gained. And I’m thankful that after much stress I did in fact manage to get my hard earned money out of Korea.

In spite of my so called “homelessness” I’m thankful for the fact that I have not once been without food or shelter throughout this whole year. Nor have I worried about whether or not I would have food or water. This is something that most people in the world can’t say. Not only have I not gone a day without a full stomach, I have also been blessed to be able to have the luxury of eating some pretty tasty foods.


I’m thankful for TRAVEL! I know most people do have the opportunities I’ve been blessed with and probably never will. I hope I can share these experiences and help bring the world together in a small way.


I’m thankful for my health. I successfully ran a marathon this year, get to go mountain biking with the cows on a regular basis, and now can wake up to sunshine almost every day to go running, not to mention the many beautiful hikes I enjoyed in Korea.

I’m thankful for the beautiful world we live in and being able to be close to nature. Let’s not take it for granted and preserve it please.






I hope all you Americans had an equally wonderful Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

More observations from the USA

-PEDESTRIANS ACTUALLY HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY HERE!!!! What a novelty. Also people drive on the right side of the road. How confusing.

-I like Seattle. My main reason: the number of people running, biking and walking in all weather. Finally someplace where I fit in (although I don't enjoy exercising in crappy weather). Secondary reason: exorbitant numbers of independent coffee shops. Three: buses, and mass transit.

-America has good customer service. To all the other countries in the world: The customer IS ALWAYS right.

-I didn't miss malls at all. I was so excited to visit some of my familiar stores: Target, DSW, Gap (although there is Gap in Korea). Fail. Just walking into a mall tied my stomach in knots and I didn't even like anything that was in the stores. It's better if I don't shop at all and if necessary to go to fun boutique and thrift stores. The consumer culture of Korea and the US is disgusting to me.

-Why can't we list prices with the tax included? So irritating. I get the exact change all ready to go and then they add the stupid tax on. I don't want to know how much tax I'm paying.

-Chipotle isn't legit Mexican food but it's still pretty awesome.

-You can get any food you could possibly want in America.

-Why do I keep finding Koreans and hearing Korean everywhere I seem to go in this city? I'm not ready for this.

-Americans talk really loud. I don't actually want to hear your conversation. It's actually a blessing living somewhere where you can't understand 90% of what people are saying

-It is possible to live in a city and have green space and nice places to run. Probably not cramming millions of people in human storage units assists in this accomplishment.

-I have an interview with Samaritan's Purse for a program in Uganda on Tuesday!!!!! :) Life plan maybe??

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


After a short but lovely visit to Cape Town and a long layover in Germany, I am officially in the US of A! Everything still feels a bit weird and organizing my thoughts into a semi coherent piece of writing is a mission at the moment so instead I'm going to list my observations from the past day.

-Americans are one of the friendliest nationalities. The warm welcome from the customs officials and the random strangers I encountered in my first few hours on US soil were quite nice. What wasn't so nice was the unwelcome friendliness I received while on my run. Maybe I should go back to girly, shy men filled Korea.

-Americans are quite possibly the worst dressed nationality. Also my initial analysis of Seattle is that it doesn't win any awards for best dressed city. Fleece, Columbia jackets, and beards seem to rule this city (or at least what I've observed after a day). On my flight from Germany I was spoken to in German, I like to think this was because I was perhaps better dressed than my fellow American passengers. But maybe not. I never thought I'd feel like a tourist in a city simply because I looked semi (emphasis on the semi part) put together. However, the benefit to Americans' dressing habits is that going out requires zero effort. A pleasant change from appearance driven Korea.

-Cheap, delicious coffee is a blessing. Don't take it for granted.

-The US is the most diverse country I've ever been to. Argue with this statement if you want but the US's diversity is extremely obvious to me now after spending a year in one of the most homogeneous places on earth. South Africa seemed incredibly diverse (and I would still consider it diverse) compared to Korea but after the racially and linguistically diverse subway ride from the Seattle airport, I quickly changed my opinion on South Africa's diversity. It's pretty awesome to once again be a racially diverse place.

-Pandora is awesome. Grooveshark doesn't make the cut. Please go international Pandora!

-Good beer is awesome. Hite and Cass are pretty vile, and soju's only saving grace is its price tag.

-Rain and cold are not awesome. Generally it's recommended to go from cold to warm not the other way around.

-My ears still instinctively perk up/burn when I hear American accents. Hopefully this ends soon. Also, my English is more South African than I thought. Oops. I blame hanging out with South Africans for the past 15 months.

-The Seattle airport seems to like to make announcements in English AND Korean. Sigh. Korea will follow me to the ends of the earth.

-Being able to carry semi valuable possessions around without worrying about being robbed is a blessing. That and not locking up my valuables every time I leave the house.

-Darmstadt, Germany stills as much like home as ever. I miss that country A LOT in spite of its unfavorable weather.

Looking forward to eating samples in Whole Foods and Trader Joes, Korean food, more beer, more coffee, and Target and NYC (thank you horrible Korean banks). God Bless Uhhh-murr-ika (working on my accent again)!

Also, OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: I will officially in Michigan/the midwest from December 24th to January 20th, with the latter date somewhat pending my future plans. Excited and nervous!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wonders of the World

The large southern most island in South Korea, Jeju Island, is in the running for one of the new seven wonders of the world (one of 28 finalists to be exact). This island faces competition from the likes of the Grand Canyon, the Underground River in Palawan, Philippines (where I've been!), the Matterhorn, the Amazon, the Great Barrier Reef, Mt Kilamanjaro among others. Do I think Jeju Island is deserving of this honor? No. While, Jeju is certainly pretty and certainly quite different and rather you unique compared to the rest of Korea, I wouldn't put it even in the top ten most beautiful places I have traveled to. Sorry Korea! You have many good qualities but unfortunately in my humble opinion your tiny peninsula just doesn't match up to some of the other extraordinary, beautiful, and awe inspiring places around the world. Do I think Jeju Island has a chance to win this honor? Yes. Unlike other countries, likely virtually all of South Korea's population of 50 million has access to the internet and is connected to several methods of voting (okay maybe not ALL I'd like to think newborn babies can't vote but you never know). Combine this connectedness (apparently that's not a word?) with extreme patriotism and extreme promotion of Jeju Island on the part of Korea. You never know what could happen. But this post is not about Jeju Island's worthiness to the honor of a wonder of the world, but about one the wonders of Africa (sadly not in the running for a wonder of the world, but more deserving than Jeju Island in my opinion). And by the way if you feel like voting for the new seven wonders of the world click here. You have until November 11th.

Drive to Maun
Last weekend, my dad and I drove the 10 hour (well more like 9 when drive fast, not that we were doing that or anything) drive to Maun in northern Botswana--the gateway to the Okavango Delta, one of the seven wonders of Africa (I did look this fact up). If you do not know what the Delta is, it is perhaps one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. And this fact is what intrigued me upon first arriving in Maun. As we drove north in Botswana the already limited greenery (we are currently waiting the start of the rainy season) grew even more scarce. The few times we exited our air conditioned car made us notice the steady rise in temperature. While, we still spotted the frequent cow, donkey, and goat, along with increasing numbers of ostriches on the side of the road, I often wondered how these animals were surviving without any water that I could see and EXTREMELY limited vegetation. By the time we entered Maun the main landscape was scrubby, dry bushes and trees sitting atop white sand. Yet what else was intermingled in this rather desolate and dry landscape? A network of small rivers covered in vivid green reeds and other vegetation. The Okavango Delta is a chunk of the Kalahari Desert that has been overrun with runoff from waterways in Angola. Basically an excess of water just soaked up into the desert creating a haven for a diverse collection of wildlife.

Sunset from our campsite. 
Mokoro ride. 
After seeing almost no birds (birds chirping in the morning were once the signal of spring for me) or wildlife (besides the occasional dyed toy dog) in Korea, witnessing the unique birds of the Delta was incredible. We spent one long hot day on the river, taking a traditional Mokoro boat through the reeds. I saw a small crocodile sunning itself, scores of birds that I can't remember the names of, and my skin once again reminded me why it probably in fact belongs in northern europe, not southern Africa (sad days). Our second day was spent in the vast Moremi game reserve in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some of the large and various numbers of wildlife there. We were not disappointed. I've been lucky enough on five game drives to spot virtually all of the major African animals up close, but I had not ever seen male lions close enough to consider getting National Geographic worthy photos of them. After a few hours of driving, successful game spotting, and lunch, our driver seemed determined to find lions for us, in spite of the extreme heat which causes most animals to run for shade (especially lions). We drove up and down various paths with no luck, but suddenly we spotted the flick of a tail off in the distance. Success! Our driver navigated the vehicle off the main road (much to my surprise) and parked the vehicle right next to a tree where four HUNGRY male lions were napping. Lucky (or perhaps unlucky) for me I was born for the most part without a healthy dose of fear and instead proceeded to snap photos of these magnificent beasts. The driver informed us that as long as we did not move abruptly or stick any body parts out of the car (keep in mind there are no doors on this vehicle) we would be fine. For about fifteen quiet minutes we watched these great beasts. They almost seemed harmless as they yawned and dozed in the hot afternoon sun. It was amazing that while we could see their ribs clearly and knew they probably hadn't eaten in some time they made no move towards our vehicle where three humans sat, virtually defenseless. I was half tempted (don't tell my father) to put something out of the car just to see how they would react. Apparently lions react to quick movements and can notice differences (ie if a wildebeast is among a herd of zebra the lion would be able to spot the wildebeast but not necessarily the zebra). Finally, we drove away much to my dad's relief and I could check this sighting off my to-do list. Rather than try and describe anything further in words I leave you with photos (unedited).
River on the way to Moremi game reserve. Sunrise. 
One of many elephant sightings. Botswana has the largest herd of elephants in the world at 100,000. 

Hippo getting ready for his daily bath. 

A lone hyena. 

Our company during lunch break. 

Thanks for posing for me. 

Hopefully you're not eyeing me as lunch. 

The striped horse. 

 As for everyday life in Botswana, my life has settled into a rhythm of running and mountain biking, going to the gym, enjoying the sun, and filling out lots and lots of applications. Most recently I've been writing research proposals and modifying personal statements for grad school apps. Oh joy! I wish I could just skip all this and get back to school already. Ironically enough I am also teaching English to Koreans living in Botswana. Which is neither fulfilling or exciting to me but it does involve a supply of kimchi and money. Two very good things. In less than two weeks I will spend a long weekend in Cape Town then back to Seattle and Oregon for my brother's wedding. I have booked roundtrip so unless something amazing comes up between now and December 5th I will be back in admirably dull Botswana. It's a little weird to think that it's been almost two months since I left Korea. It feels like a year. I've already forgotten some of the customs that became so normal to me there. But this fact just confirms for me that it was a good decision for me to leave. And I'll leave you with that. In the time it took for me to write this post we had our first official rain! And for once in my life I enjoyed it! :)

Friday, October 7, 2011


I'm not a fan of job searching. It would be far more convenient if jobs would just find me. So I'm taking a temporary break from the daunting task of creating a life plan post November (so far in advance I'm planning!).
Life in Botswana is almost the polar opposite of life in Korea. For the time being this is a good thing. I will explain with pictures.
Work Environment:


This picture is technically South Africa--on our way to Tugela Falls.
 Enjoyed a picnic ALL BY OURSELVES!!!
Yeah this would never
fly in Korea or the US. 

Where's the traffic control?


My Neighborhood:

Why hello there donkey!
Love motel anyone?

This is a lie. There is
some traffic in Bots.
But this is my
everyday running traffic.
Running in this? No thanks!
Fact: In one month in Southern Africa you can eat
four times the avocados eaten in one year in
South Korea.

Quantity of Cheap, Ripe Avocados:

Korea: None.

Customer Service (no photo documentation here):

Korea: Give casual glance at items in store without even fully entering store. Clerk rushes to attend to you since your casual glance means you’re obviously very interested. Immediately several products are produced and flaunted before you. No matter that you would never even consider purchasing said products without being given the opportunity to discreetly glance at the price tag.

Botswana: Enter store with the intent of purchasing specific item. Clerk acts as though you don’t exist. Enquire with the clerk where item might be located after spending much time attracting the “busy” clerk’s attention. Clerk acts as if you are inconveniencing him or her. Whaaaaaaaaaat? Do work at work? No way!

Conclusion: Both versions of “customer service” are equally annoying in my opinion. Let me mind my own business. If I have a question I’ll ask and then I expect you to help me without complaining.

Internet Speed:

Korea: Fastest in the world                                                                                                                                      

Botswana: No comment. I will now end the picture uploading because at the rate it’s going it’s testing my patience.

But before I close my comparisons, there are some startling similarities between Korea and Botswana.
1. Umbrellas are used in both places as shields from the sun (more necessary in Botswana in my opinion because the sun actually shines and radiates heat here).
2. Better enforced traffic laws and driver’s ed programs are needed in both countries. I think improvement of these two areas would reduce the number of accidents, automobile related injuries/deaths, and people who daily fear for their lives when venturing anywhere near a major road.
3. Lack of trash cans. Contrary to popular thought Korea is not like Japan and Singapore. It does not have spotless sidewalks. Its lack abundance of trash receptacles and concern of citizens to dispose of trash properly more closely resembles Botswana’s.

Beyond the many differences between the two countries, I'm loving life in Botswana and already dreading the impending cold weather upon my arrival in the northwest. Brother, why did you decide to get married just as winter is coming on in the States and summer is coming here? Stupid. ;)

Side note: Between crappy internet and an impossible time formatting this, this blog post took FOREVER!!!! Can anyone inform me on how to format more easily? I'm still not happy with how this turned out but I'm also sick of working on it. Why does blogger have to be this difficult? Going to try writing it in word first.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sunny Perfection

Birds chirping. Bugs. Grass. Dirt. Trees. Roads with sky and earth as far as the eye can see. Beaches where you have space to breathe and people actually swimming. Avocados. Speaking English. Blue cloudless skies. Sun that radiates heat. People saying "Sorry" and "Excuse me". A cup of coffee for less than $2. Bike rides where your only company is sky, sun, grass, and cows. Showing my collar bone and not feeling self conscience. A huge real oven. Hiking without traffic jams. Clean air.

I'm not dead folks, I'm just zoned out in a world where I'm acutely aware of everything I lacked in Korea. You really can't appreciate everyday simplicities until they are stripped from your life for a year. After two glorious weeks in South Africa, I am safely situated outside by my dad's pool soaking up sunshine. My last two weeks in Korea were a blur of packing, routine, and closing out my life for a year. Thankfully it never felt like I was leaving and thankfully I have not missed anything about my life in Korea besides the friends that I made. It was a good run, full of wonderful people, learning, and traveling but I'm finished (or pinishee as my old students would say). Being back in the continent of Africa, temporary as it is, has made me Rachel again, and reminded me of what really completes me.

My time in South Africa was spent an hour north of Durban reunited with friends, hiking up a chain ladder on a sheer cliff to the second highest waterfall in the world (Tugela Falls), beach time, running where I have space to breathe, exploring Cape Town, surfing, hiking Table Mountain, crafting and catching up with old friends. Before I visited South Africa I knew I would love it: beautiful beaches, mountains, good weather, and the simple fact that it is in the continent of Africa. South Africa did not disappoint but it still surprised me. For the majority of the trip I did not feel that I was in the continent of Africa. My first trips to Africa were in rural poverty stricken areas where I was certainly a minority. Poor roads, lack of infrastructure, but beautiful and rich culture and geography made up the trips. In South Africa I could blend in as long as I didn't talk much and expose my American accent. I could have all the comforts of life in the US: hot showers, semi-familiar foods, good roads (well actually better roads than Michigan), safe drinking water, cute coffee shops and boutique stores, and the pleasure of effortlessly communicating in English. I felt as though one could live in South Africa without any knowledge of the other side of the country. Aside of the beautiful homes that filled many rich suburbs of Cape Town, and the fancy buildings of "downtown" Cape Town, most of the population actually lives in poverty. Whereas other African countries I visited the poverty and simplicity of life is right in your face, in South Africa it seems it would be easy to completely ignore the darker side of South Africa. I can see why tourists flock to South Africa to get their "Africa experience": it is actually a developed country, just one with a big gap between rich and poor.

Analysis aside, South Africa temporarily quenched my growing surfing addiction, and allowed me to enjoy vacation time before facing figuring out my "future". And for those that are asking: I will for sure be in northwestern US at the end of November for my big brother's wedding. So if you're anywhere near Seattle or Portland I would love to see you! In the meantime, I'm waiting waiting for Peace Corps, filling out lots of applications, mountain biking with my dad, baking, and trying to do some volunteer work. I owe many of you personal e-mails. I promise I haven't forgotten. I'm just trying to sort my life out (no excuse, I know). And in case anyone is confused about my exact location in the world, I am in Gaborone, Botswana living with my dearest father. Well, back to tanning and application duty! 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Eat, Surf, Eat: Bali

I'll admit it. A big part of the reason I wanted to go to Bali for vacation was because the book Eat, Pray, Love. Indonesia has always fascinated me so after reading Eat, Pray, Love this winter  I was determined to discover what it is about Bali that keeps tourists coming year after year. Unlike the Philippines, I had no preconceived notion of what Bali would be like. Nice beaches of course. Temples? Lots of delicious fruit. What else?

Shea and I arrived in the Jakarta airport around midnight to once again attempt to spend the night in the airport. After paying $25 for our colorful, crisp, new thirty day visa, we ventured out to find where we could stake a semi comfortable place in the airport to sleep for a few hours before our flight to Bali. After evading the rush of so called taxi drivers heckling us to take us to the domestic terminal (and discovering that we needed to somehow get to the domestic terminal), and figuring out the currency conversion and trying four atms before getting some cash, we finally found an empty bench to snuggle up on for a few hours sleep. Or so we thought.

August is the month of Ramadan (the holiest month of the year for Muslims) this year, so the airport was filled with people ready to start their pilgrimage to Mecca. Side fact: Indonesia actually has the largest population of Muslims in the world. Muslims are the majority in this country but it is actually rather religiously diverse: Christians, Hindus, and some Buddhists as well. Bali is mainly Hindu, making it very different from the rest of Indonesia. All this would have been okay if it was not for the little Indonesian child who was wearing "cute" (or so her parents thought) shoes that squeaked every time she stepped. Lucky for the child I did not have a weapon handy otherwise her squeaking would have ended very quickly. In spite of a lack of sleep Shea and I managed to meet a lovely Indonesian man who is an engineering professor and had traveled to Zimbabwe and South Africa, get on a cheap taxi for the five minute journey to the domestic terminal, and finally make the quick journey to Bali.

Unlike the Philippines where we were unable to find couchsurfing host and instead had to settle for $4 a night accommodations, Bali has a vibrant couchsurfing community that basically ensured the success of our visit. After a bit of a fiasco we were met at the airport by our host Ramon who willingly took off work to pick us up in the morning. Since he had to work the rest of the day he dropped us off with another couchsurfing for a day of parasailing, and eating (hence the title).

It's difficult to describe in words how wonderful Bali was. Between the people, the food, the scenery, the activities we did, and its "vibe" I can fully understand why people visit Bali and just stay. In our short week we encountered nearly every nationality possible: lots and lots of Europeans (particularly of the German and French varieties), boatloads of Australians (particularly of the surfer variety), Koreans, Chinese, a few Americans, Spanish... Bali is literally overrun with tourists. BUT, in spite of the hoards of tourists that keep the island's economy alive there is an inescapable beauty, culture, and atmosphere about Bali that makes it so tantalizing. Shea and I filled our days with beach time, surfing, hiking a volcano, eating amaaaazingly delicious and cheap food (I didn't think it could get cheaper than the Philippines but try $1 for a full plate of deliciousness), visiting a few beautiful temples, biking through rice terraces of the most vivid green I've seen, guarding our belongings from monkey thiefs, stuffing our faces with tropical fruit and most importantly hanging out with fun, friendly locals.

Our host Ramon, and the other couchsurfers we met along the way, went above and beyond any expectations I had. Ramon drove us all over the island in his free time, took us to nooks and crannies we never would have found on our own, and provided us with a much needed opportunity to joke around (something I've severely missed in Korea). The Balinese people are happy, content, and fun. Unlike many "developed" countries, in Bali every local we spoke with (even those who were well traveled) assertively said they will never settle anywhere but Bali. Leaving this relaxed, and open-minded culture to the competitive, fast, and non-stop culture of Korea was more than difficult. But as Ramon said best: "Bali is relaxed but the pay is also relaxed". But does money really ever bring one happiness...

Our trip ended with a fabulous night with a large group of Balinese couchsurfers: homemade dinner, traditional tea, then karoake. I will never forget the friends I made in Bali and while I didn't find the same kind of love that Elizabeth Gilbert did in Eat, Pray, Love, I am in love with the food, culture, and people of Bali. One more place to return to.

Photos stolen from Shea because I have not sifted through mine yet.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Colorful World: Palawan, Philippines

Traveling to the tropics confirms my belief in God's creativity: bright blue skies, fluffy white clouds, aqua water contrasting with white sand beaches, fruit in array of colors I didn't know existed, and sunsets that fill the sky with an infusion of stunning purples, blues, oranges that take my breath away. Every part of the world has its own hidden beauty, but the combination of colors, plants and wildlife that can only be found in the tropics never ceases to inspire me. Vacation in the Philippines and Bali was the perfect combination of interesting people and culture, jaw dropping scenery, and fun activities.

Shea and I arrived in Puerto Princessa on the island of Palawan in the Philippines late morning on a Saturday after a brief night in the Manila airport. After ensuring that we didn't get ripped off on our short tricycle (see future pics) ride from the airport to our pension, we spent the afternoon letting the sun work its magic and acquiring our first sunburn of the trip. My first impressions of Palawan were colorful, clean (yes, in fact much cleaner than Korea), and friendly. We snagged free rides to and from the beach from friendly locals, and enjoyed having REAL conversations in English with everyone we met.

After a day in Puerto we woke up at the crack of dawn and climbed abroad the local bus to El Nido, among lots of Filipinos, some chickens and bags of rice, a few palm tree leaves, and a goat or pig (we never determined which) we picked up along the way. The seven hour drive to El Nido gave us a taste of the landscape of Palawan: aqua colored coast against white sand, thick palm tree forests, and rice fields scattered through the entire. Palawan reminded me of Costa Rica and Nicaragua with the Asian addition of rice fields.

For the next three days, Shea and I filled our days lazing on white sand beaches all by ourselves, a boat trip to  small islands, coves, and lagoons for some snorkeling in the bath water temperature water, kayaking to a private beach, and enjoying dinner with a backdrop of color brushed sky as the sun set. Often I felt as though I was in a scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean with the pristine, uninhabited beaches, and limestone cliffs. Because El Nido is located in a very protected bay filled with small limestone islands the water was so calm it was easy to forget it was even the sea.

Three and half perfect days in El Nido and we boarded the bus back to Puerto Princessa. Taking local transport always makes for an adventure. This time around the bus was so packed I actually wondered how the bus would make it over all the hills. But eight hours later we safely arrived in Puerto. The last "wonder" that Palawan offered us was a tour of the longest underground river in the world--8.5 km long. This natural river is actually in the running for one of the new seven wonders of the world.

A short flight brought us from Puerto to Manila for another day and half to rest at Shea's boyfriend's aunt's place in Manila. It would be difficult to name my favorite part of our trip but like most of my travels what always sticks with me the most is the people you meet. The highlight of the trip was enjoying two meals with a kind and friendly Filipino woman (Liselle) in her home in El Nido. After friendly chit chat one morning on our walk into town she invited us for dinner. Besides the phenomenal (and cheap) food she prepared, it was wonderful to hear her stories and learn more about Filipino culture. The taste of her chili crabs was unforgettably divine. Besides Liselle, we spent two days hanging out with some fun Spanish exchange students  who were studying in Singapore. I realized how much I've missed being able to effortlessly converse with strangers and friends, while staying in Korea. It's exhausting and often unrewarding, trying to communicate in broken English and Korean. Filipinos exhibited a remarkable language ability. The Philippines is a country with roughly 26 languages, so unlike Koreans, Filipinos are accustomed to hearing several different languages and seem to have a knack for picking up languages. It was a pleasure to chat in English and effortlessly communicate my desires and wishes.

Colorful Palawan left me with healthy glowing skin, lingering tastes of new exotic fruits and foods, new friends, and another place to add to my ever growing list of places to return to. Saying goodbye would have been impossible if it wasn't for Bali to look forward to.

Soon I will bombard this blog and facebook with photos to put my words into visual form, but for now I'm busy wrapping life in Korea up. So for now you will have to take my word that Palawan was amazingly beautiful.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Four Days!

This is what parts of Seoul looked
like last week. 
Four days until I am out of this never ending rain in Korea and in Palawan, Philippines and Bali, Indonesia. CANNOT wait!!!!! For those of you reading this as an update on my life I will probably be somewhat internetless from August 5th-22nd. Instead I will be enjoying the beach, scuba diving (hopefully), delicious food, hiking, swimming and running and simply being away from Korean children. My fellow cheap traveler and I have already made contact with some fabulous couchsurfers and booked ridiculously cheap accommodations! The countdown is on! Hooray! In three weeks hopefully my still white winter sun-starved skin will be golden brown (but in reality I will probably just be roasted).
Mt. Agung, Bali. Active volcano and tallest mountain on Bali. I will hopefully be climbing this. 
El Nido, Palawan Philippines. If it looks even half this beautiful Rachel will be very happy. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Guess what I'm doing right now? Yep, procrastinating. Somehow I'm really good at it while still managing to "efficiently" get my work done. My time is rapidly winding down in Korea and I actually have lots to blog about but mainly I'm too busy lazy to write. Lately there is one aspect of life in Korea that has come to my attention particularly after my friend came to visit from the States: fashion conformity.

Fashion staple: big black belt. 
While preparing a lesson on fashion and ads for my English teacher lessons (a lesson that I never actually taught), I found this quote: fashion is evolutionary not revolutionary. Think about it. Now that I'm getting older I can already see the validity in that statement. I now wear things that even just five years ago I would have laughed at someone wearing. My mom has this big fat black belt that she used to wear high on her waist and I used to laugh and laugh at her lack of fashion sense. Well now I should laugh at myself because one of my current favorite outfits includes a black belt strikingly similar to the very belt that my mother used to wear. And this belt is an integral part of my wardrobe. Oops. The rule about saving your clothes then re wearing them fifteen or so years later is probably not a bad idea. So fashion is evolutionary. I'm sure experts in fashion might argue that they're being revolutionary by wearing some new piece but give it a few months or a year and that piece will be considered fashionable and "trendy" and everyone will be wearing it.

But let me now connect all this talk of fashion to Korea. I think most places in the world go through phases of trends where MANY people will wear similar clothing and now that the world is connected these trends are also connected and similar around the world. But in the U.S. and virtually every other country I have been to there are still signs of individuality within fashion. If mini-skirts are "in" that does not mean that almost every American you encounter will be sporting a mini-skirt or even the same mini-skirt. In the U.S. fashion is definitely regional, where in big cities people are more fashionable, and generally speaking in the Midwest people are less fashionable (sorry Midwesterners but I'm afraid it's true). But even within these broad generalizations there is individuality. We can further classify people's fashion as preppy, bohemian, sophisticated, casual, classic, sporty... While mini skirts might be "in" you will still see many (and perhaps far too many in my opinion) people wearing sweats, baggy t-shirts, plain old jeans, running shoes and jeans (my least favorite American clothing combination), and many more combinations. If bangs are in style you won't see every single American female running to the nearest hair salon to get bangs. I feel that I can still say with some certainty that there is still individualism. I can say the same for Germany. While people generally were more put together looking than many Americans, there was still a large variation in people's styles.

My "exotic" dress. 
In Korea any variation is almost impossible to detect. After a while I became accustomed to seeing almost ALL young women wearing similar dresses, skirts, tops, and ALL (seriously probably 90%) wearing heels. Yes, heels are considered fashionable but no other place in the world (even Taiwan and Japan) have I seen so many heel wearers. Meander through the underground shopping center in my neighborhood and you will see store after store selling virtually identical clothing, shoes, and accessories. If bangs are in style every Korean girl will rush to the nearest hair salon (and they won't have to go far). Mini-skirts are currently the latest trend so seeing any youngish female wearing any skirt that goes below the knee is an uncommon sight and the shortness of some of the skirts is shocking to your average western onlooker (especially given that even showing your collar bone can be considered "too sexy"). Most recently I received (what I took to be a compliment) comment that my dress was exotic and was asked where I got it from. I think the teacher assumed I had brought from the U.S. and was flabbergasted when I informed her that I had in fact bought it in Korea. What? Where? Well... I bought it in Hongdae. The one part of Korea that still maintains a creative somewhat independent spirit. Her surprise was not unfounded however, because I too have yet to see anyone wearing a dress similar to it in Korea.

Okay, the dress is cute but let's scarp the skulls.
Can't get over my idea of skulls being goth. 
In Korea when something is "in" it is IN. Fur is in style. So let's put fur on every single item of clothing. Animal print apparently is also trendy so let's slap it on every piece of fabric possible. The most bizarre one for me? Skulls. Skulls are also a new trend so I will often find them on dresses, scarves, and other accessories. Sooorry. I won't be sporting any skull print attire anytime soon. I'll remain the non-conformist minority thank you very much.

Fashion conformity in Korea is just one example of the prevalence of conformity and community in this culture. I just finished reading an interesting book on Korean culture written in cartoon format by a Korean. I will blog about the book later but I felt that fashion, especially given it's significance in Korea deserved a post by itself. In my opinion, fashion in Korea is anything from revolutionary but merely evolutionary. I anxiously await my return to a country where there are at least a few people who don't care that what they're wearing is not the latest

Friday, July 1, 2011

Open Doors

As usual I'm blogging to procrastinate. If nothing else that's what this blog has been good for. I officially have two months and four days left in Korea and this means two months and four days to make a plan for what I'm doing next, plan a ridiculous number of lessons for all the teaching I'm doing this summer (yep no deskwarming this "vacation"), make some semblance of a plan for my trip to Bali and the Philippines (in true Rachel fashion this is less pressing to me seeing as all my trips are rather spontaneous), figure out packing and shipping my stuff somewhere (since I don't have a future plan or home yet, sigh), figuring out getting all my money sent to my U.S. bank account after I leave, planning and finalizing my visit to my friend in South Africa and seeing my family (or maybe just my dad) in Botswana, and most importantly keeping busy with the awesome activities I've been doing here and seeing important people before I leave. This flurry of activity is also my attempt to reduce the mix of confusion about liiiife, sadness about leaving Korea, and general stress about making a plan that I've been feeling lately.

REALLY don't want to say goodbye to these little guys.
Also, as you can see I have great classroom management skills (NOT!)
Two weeks ago I was forced to officially tell my school that I'm not staying for another year. I was half hoping the renewal notice just somehow wouldn't come and I could keep playing the game where I haven't in fact booked my tickets to South Africa and I am still very much unsure about whether or not I will stay another year (which actually isn't so far from the truth). My announcement brought more sadness than I expected and each day my students (even the devil ones) seem to get cuter and more pleasant, making me wonder if I made the wrong decision. And my after school class doesn't help matters. A few of my little 1st and 2nd graders are beginning to read and it fills me with such pride and joy only to be crushed two seconds later when I get the sinking realization that I'm leaving them in two months and they could be stuck with a terrible, loser native teacher who either doesn't care about them and or doesn't know how to teach little ones who speak almost no English (not that I really know how to either). That's a bit extreme, but regardless I will be creating a VERY detailed plan of everything I've done with the little ones in the hope that their little sponge brains will continue to absorb English once I'm gone.

So even though on a daily basis, I get frequent semi freak out moments of "Where in the world will I be at the end of September?", "I will have no job in September!", "What am I doing with my life?", "Did I make the right decision not to stay at my current school?" I am TRYING to chill out and realize that some things are just not in my control. I've always been the person who at least SEEMS to have her life together. I always have a plan. I always am employed. I always know where I'm going next. I'm obsessive about saving money so that I always have emergency money (that got me far since I have less money in my savings at the moment than I did in middle school). Well right now I'm not going to pretend that I have my life in order any more, because I most certainly don't. I don't have a plan for next year, I am very poor but luckily completely debt free at the moment (adios student loan!), and I don't even know where my family will be in two months. In the midst of my confusion and obsessing I stumbled upon (quite literally stumbled upon) this quote:

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us." 
 Helen Keller

I think right now I'm a bit stuck looking at the door(s) of happiness that have recently closed: this year in Korea, wonderful opportunities for travel the last four years, good internships, etc, that I haven't quite found that new door. Or it hasn't opened for me just yet. I've often had the image of being in a waiting room with doors surrounding me and the feeling of being trapped. Which doors are open? Which is the right one to go into? So for now I'm searching for that door by filling out lots of applications and trusting that God will open the right door for me.

But in the midst of my waiting this past month has been filled with lots of wonderful adventures:

-Running my last half marathon (until it cools down at least) in a beautiful mountain city two hours away from Seoul (Hwacheon). Clean refreshing air and good weather even if it was a bit hot! Plus lots of freebies of course!

-Spent the beginning of the month taking advantage of a long weekend to couch surf in the southern coastal city of Busan. Beautiful weather, and wonderful people!

- Two weekends ago hiking the second tallest mountain in Korea in Jirisan National Park with two of my good friends. A weekend completely void of other waygooks (foreigners) surprisingly, and lots of friendly, kind and generous Koreans. From the moment we stepped off the bus there were kind Koreans helping us. We stayed in a minbak which is like budget hotel where you sleep traditional Korean style on the floor in a small room. It was quite pleasant and a good night's sleep for the money. On the entire hike friendly Korean hikers (all AT LEAST 20 years older than us) stopped to chat, share food with us, or get pictures with us. I successfully understood and spoke some Korean and I was once again amazed at how kind and generous Koreans usually are. I'm going to miss hiking in Korea!

-Going to see German films at the Goethe Institute in Seoul with a new German speaking Korean friend.

-Attending Language Cast meetups in Seoul to meet friendly people and practice my German and Korean.

Picnic in the park while learning Korean 
-Continuing to meet with my amazing language exchange partner to study Korean. Usually I compare my Korean to those who speak it much better than me but when I think about how far I've come and how I can now understand quite a bit and have a simple conversation, I suppose I've done well given my sub-par study efforts. My language partner, Eunjung has become a close friend and yet another person who I REALLY don't want to say goodbye to. She has promised to visit me wherever I go next and I most certainly will be returning to Korea in the near future to visit her and some of the other lovely people I've met here. She has been an incredible friend and teacher for me, and I've enjoyed helping her with her English.

Due to my obsessive planning nature all my weekends for the next two months besides three are fully booked. Looking forward to a visit from a friend I haven't seen in two years (this weekend! YES!), mud festival, helping at an English vacation bible school, and couchsurfing in the Philippines and Bali with lots of beach, mountains, scuba diving and relaxing time. But in the meantime, for my friends around the world and those who think I always have my life together: I don't have too much of a clue where I will be or what I will be doing post September, and I REALLY don't have my life together. Just waiting, waiting for the right door to open.