NaBloPoMo: Completing the Challenge

A totally unrelated photograph from Lübeck, Germany.
A totally unrelated photograph from Lübeck, Germany.

November, you kicked my butt into gear and then quickly disappeared. When I set out to do the NaBloPoMo or National Blog Posting Month challenge, I’ll admit that I was a bit hesitant. I don’t commit without serious thought, and worse than anything is committing and falling short. My worst nightmare was to set a challenge for myself and then fail, in the public eye. I also worried about bombarding my readers with too much content, losing subscribers and the negative effect NaBloPoMo could have on this blog. So I almost didn’t sign up, I almost signed up with an obscure personal blog that I don’t even use, I almost clicked out of the window to “sleep on the decision”, also known as forgetting about it.

But I didn’t. I said to myself: “Sally, don’t be a butthead.” (Yes, really.) I realized that if it would be over-blogging and bombardment of content for the smaller amount of readers I have now, it would be the same amount of over-blogging next year, just for more readers. And it was something I wanted to undertake, I wanted to complete the challenge, but I was just nervous. I didn’t think very much about all of the positive things it could do for my blog, though I knew, in theory, that it would make me better and stretch my limits.

So I simply took the plunge, bring what it may. Which turned out to be a whole lot of positives.

It made me think hard, and then force myself to produce.

Whereas earlier I was blogging more or less on inspiration and ideas, this month I blogged on demand. I learn a little about harnessing ideas, creating brainstorm lists and coming back to them later, when it was writing time. I learned about sparking inspiration by looking through old photos or just putting pen to paper and seeing what happened.

It forced me to revisit topics I’d left behind and undone.

I went back to Turkey and Cyprus, putting together photos and information about my trips. Without NaBloPoMo, I may have never gotten around to it. The “(Delicious) Things I Consumed In…” posts will now be a series for small trips I take, thanks to this.

This was also a downside of NaBloPoMo, as I remembered that I haven't eaten Baklava in about a year.
This was also a downside of NaBloPoMo, as I remembered that I haven’t eaten Baklava in about a year. Tears.

It forced me to branch out into new areas.

New topics this month include my hometown, Pittsburgh, my school lunches, getting into pop culture like K-Pop and writing the first post about Argentina since I’ve stopped writing on Tumblr. My topics were all over the place, but in a good way. Creativity upgrade complete.

It put my brain into blog-mode.

Wherever I was, I considered if there was something about this experience I wanted to put in blog form. If so, then I made sure to take the necessary pictures and write down any important information.

It put me on a schedule.

I had to find an everyday rhythm and with that, I was able to plan ahead. I made it my goal to write my post every weekday before lunchtime, and on Fridays I would think about my weekend plans and when I would sit down to write for the day.

Practice, practice, practice makes better.

I had to change that cliched phrase a bit, since writing is one of those things that will never be perfect. But the practice has helped me write not just better sentences, but work out the formatting and overall layout of my blog posts to be more readable and fun. I feel like I’ve improved a lot, even in a short amount of time.

It drove traffic like crazy.

I know that more content means more people looking at what you’ve written, but I expected that to be somewhat off-set by people overwhelmed with all of the new writing and falling away until it was over. In reality, people viewing the site increased by 150% this month! The bunches of content didn’t overwhelm my readers as much as I thought. That’s a relief.

If I could celebrate with this piece of cake from Argentina right now, I would.
If I could celebrate with this piece of cake from Argentina right now, I would. But I’ll settle for a nap.

There are other small things NaBloPoMo has done for me, like sparking some beneficial research and introducing me to the challenges of blogging from my iPhone, but the above are the big ones. I’m so glad I decided to take on this challenge, because despite all of my hesitations, it’s proven to be a really wonderful tool for making myself and my blog better.

I also now dub December my NaBloProMo, or National Blog Promoting Month, in which I do my best to market all the content I’ve already written to a bigger audience and try to get it seen. Yes, new blog posts will also be happening, but oh dear, I really need to take a rest. That was hard. But I did it.

See all of the NaBloPoMo posts here:

1// NaBloPoMo, Yo
2// Weird Noms: Salt & Seaweed Flavored Pringles
3// An Honest Review of 16 Months Studying Korean
4// Working in a Small, Private Middle School in Rural South Korea
5// The Characters of Sambong
6// You Know You’ve Been in Korea Too Long When…
7// iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Istanbul

8// How To Stay Warm In Winter Like a Korean
9// Foreign Movie Pick: “Friend” (2001)
10// Mini iPhone Photoessay: A Week of School Lunches
11// Pepero Day in Korea
12// Typhoon Haiyan, Human Suffering and Responsibility
13// iPhone Photoessay: St. Hilarian Castle in Cyprus
14// Featured Photograph: Red, Green, Yellow, Orange
15// Your Crash Course in K-Pop
16// The Slow Decline of Days
17// Random Snippets of Life in South Korea
18// Language Misadventures: How I Adopted and Unadopted a Dog Before 8am
19// iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Argentina
20// Photoessay: Bikes of Germany
21// Photoessay: Stunning Sunsets in Rural Korea
22// 13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best
23// The Superpower You Can Cultivate: Foreign Language
24// My Top 5 Wanderlist
25// 11 Christmas Gifts for Travelers, Vagabonds and Wanderers
26// iPhone Photoessay: Ruins of Salamis in Cyprus
27// Sacrifices of Travel: Thanksgiving Away From Home
28// Featured Photograph: White on Water
29// A Look Ahead: The Last Month in Korea
30// This wrap up post, you’ve just read it!

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Have you noticed an improvement in my writing since I started? Did NaBloPoMo overwhelm you with content? What did you think about the challenge?

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A Look Ahead: The Last Month in Korea

book coffee happiness

It’s the end of November and it has been for the past week, but this November has absolutely flown by. The everyday blogging, the everyday work, the weekend commitments and events, book-binging and the daily routine of having a dog have all contributed to the light speed with which the month disappeared. More and more, I’m looking ahead.

This December isn’t just the end of the year, it’s also the end of my time as a middle school ESL teacher in Korea. I’m making that very specific on purpose; I will very likely be returning to Korea and ESL is a pretty marketable skill, but I can’t say I want to do it in this context again. It’s just not my cup of tea, but I’m grateful for the experience and wouldn’t trade it for much. (Maybe mashed potatoes, though…)

Let’s take a look at what’s coming up this next month:

A trip to Jeju Island. Technically I leave tonight, November, but I come back on Sunday, the first day of December. I’ll be trying to see as much as possible, eating as much as possible, and generally just going against my usual travel philosophy of spending all of my time at a coffee shop watching people.

– My November Reading Roundup! Look for that within a few days.

Selling my precious, bright green car with a maroon pleather interior. I’m going to be so sad to see it go. Princess Fiona has treated me quite well, this past year.

– Running a benefit pancake brunch for friends in town to try to raise some cash for Typhoon Haiyan victims. Pancakes will be involved, so that makes up for the stress of cooking things that people need to eat.

– Ridding my apartment of extra things. I’ve got clothes, books, general things and I live outside of town, so a “garage sale”/come-to-my-house-take-my-things-for-free situation won’t be possible. I have a feeling this may be my biggest stresser.

– Other general preparation, like finding and buying Mary a dog crate for the flight over (suggestions? please tell me!), those last dinners and one-on-ones with friends, shipping things home for which there is no room in my suitcase, making sure to eat everything delicious ever, one last time. (If only I could eat Bingsu again!)

– Eating three meals of macaroni and cheese, because my mom sent me some Easy Mac from the USA. I am actually quite excited about this, it may be one of those (three of those) bright spots in the midst of a hectic and stressful month.

– Finishing all of my Christmas shopping; buying online and making sure it’s delivered on time or grabbing any last-minute souvenirs from Seoul for family members.

– A goodbye party which will be super sad and hopefully also involve cake, because cake is delicious.

– A 36 hour Christmas in Korea and Pittsburgh (due to a Christmas flight and the time difference), my birthday in Pittsburgh, and the beginning of a very unplanned and crazy year to come.

Well, December, you’re pretty much already here, so come at me! Bring it on!

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Do you have suggestions for keeping stress levels down this month? How about for a good airplane dog carrier? What does your December look like?

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Featured Photograph: White on Water

IMG_1587 ED R2

Hamburg was a pretty city, partially thanks to all of the waterways and ports throughout the city. In the Innenalster, or inner port, buildings are built directly next to the waterway, so close that people on top of boats could have climbed right onto a sidewalk if they had wanted to. This building’s bright white facade impressed me, especially placed next to the dark port water. You know how I love a good contrast, right?

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Sacrifices of Travel: Thanksgiving Away From Home

If I had to pick a favorite holiday, I’d stop for a moment on Easter, because of the copious amounts of chocolate involved, then I’d debate over Christmas and the great times with family and gifts and hot chocolate, but eventually, I’d conclude that Thanksgiving, with all of the aromas and haste, rows of seats and unearthly amounts of incredible food, is definitely it. Something about the big table, mixture of gravy, stuffing and mashed potatoes and the fact that it’s usually not terribly cold, not just yet. So yes, after serious though, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Hands down.

One of the sacrifices that expats and long-term travelers, study abroaders and other world explorers all make is missing family events. Sometimes they are birthdays, graduations, unexpected funerals or just regular, annual holidays. As the missing family member abroad, I often try to Skype in for parties, send messages and generally just let my family know that I wish I could be there for the event. It’s never quite the same, but it’s something. And once a year, that event I’ve missed is Thanksgiving.

Three years ago, after my semester abroad had ended in Buenos Aires, I spent a month traversing the country and visiting every city I could get myself to. I made a choice to miss Thanksgiving in exchange for the adventures, a choice I wouldn’t take back. But not being there for the turkey, the stuffing, the family shenanigans and occasional mishaps was hard. Three years ago, in a mountain city of Argentina with friends I’d only met a week prior, we came together and did our best to celebrate. Me and Zoe, an American working in Bariloche, cut and boiled potatoes, prepared a casserole and readied chicken to be baked. Someone else would bring the pie. Ironically, the Argentines showed up, saw our cooking attempts and immediately fixed everything; turning up the heat on the potatoes and slicing open the chicken to cut cooking time in half.

Making Thanksgiving dinner in Bariloche, Argentina.
Making Thanksgiving dinner in Bariloche, Argentina.

We ate and laughed, and though the food was good, we enjoyed the holiday more for the people. But just as the smiling faces of friends were comforting to me, they were also a reminder of exactly what I was missing.

Almost two years ago, I signed my contract to move to Korea and teach English. On Thanksgiving, last year, I worked. The foreigners in town chose the following Saturday to get together and have potluck style Thanksgiving dinner. Two homemade pumpkin pies arrived, mashed potatoes were devoured (before I even got any!) and chickens were roasted, turkey hadn’t made its way into town. We had all of the classic fixings of Thanksgiving, aside from Turkey, and we stuffed ourselves to the breaking point in true Thanksgiving tradition. As the night wore on, it developed into singing and merriment which had to be taken outside. A long line of foreigners poured into the streets of this small Korean town, celebrating their holiday, like a single bit of sun on an otherwise cloudy day.

Last year's Thanksgiving dessert spread in Korea.
Last year’s Thanksgiving dessert spread in Korea.

A week ago, I labored over a cutting board, slicing carrots into strips, peeling ginger with my fingers and adding clove after clove of garlic to the mixture. The end result was far from pretty, but finger-licking good and I dutifully carried my Tupperware containers to the annual foreigner’s Thanksgiving potluck. We packed ourselves into the tiny apartment, ate a strange mix of foods including spicy pasta, bacon mac and cheese and roasted chicken. Mashed potatoes had been promised but not delivered, stuffing arrived almost an hour late and gravy was nowhere to be found. Pumpkin pie, store bought but a god-send nonetheless, was delivered several hours after we’d finished our food. Wine was consumed, ice cream was spilled and space was tight and cramped; what last year had felt very Thanksgiving-like, this year felt nothing of the sort.

The food was good, though, and the laughter was still there. What was supposed to be a Thanksgiving potluck was more of a strange miscellaneous potluck drinking-fest with pumpkin pie and stuffing. I had my fun, I enjoyed spending time with my friends, but at the end of the night, I wasn’t hesitant to go home. More than any year before, this Thanksgiving reminded me, painfully so, of what I was missing. Of what I’d given up to live abroad, teach and earn money in another culture and expand my horizons.

My five months in Argentina, one month of it backpacking and my year and a half of life and work in Korea are experiences that could never be replicated at home. They’ve brought me trials and lessons, laughter and new ways of thinking. My brain expanded to accommodate new languages, faces and customs. I’ve grown as a person and become more confident, daring and content with what I already have. But I haven’t lived as an expat without sacrifice; missing my favorite holiday and the family that go with it are a price I pay. Missing Thanksgiving three years running is part of that cost.

Is it worth it?

Yes.

Do I miss my family and mashed potatoes?

More than they’ll ever know.

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Have you missed holidays while traveling or living abroad? What do you miss the most from Thanksgiving? Is there one holiday you refuse to miss?

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iPhone Photoessay: Ruins of Salamis in Cyprus

Back in January of last year, I met my mom for nine days of vacation in Istanbul and Cyprus. We didn’t have much time on this little island, just two days and some family friends to meet, but those two days were days to remember. We spent one afternoon climbing Saint Hilarian Castle and another day walking here, through the ancient Greek ruins of Salamis.

The weather was beautiful, the ocean was lapping against the shore in the background and the sky was a bright cheery blue. As far as iPhone pictures go, these turned out about as well as I could hope. (But yes, I’m still kicking myself for not getting a DSLR already! Argh!) Sadly, my memory is a little foggy and I can’t tell you exactly what all these pictures are of exactly, but hey, they’re still pretty. That counts for something right? And I remember which picture is of the ancient Roman toilets. Good enough!

[For more information, you can also read the Wikipedia page about Salamis.]

salamis ruins cyprus photo
When you’re greeted by a cute dog, you know it’s going to be a nice day.
salamis ruins cyprus january
Entering the ruins… we were the only ones there.
cyprus salamis ruins statue headless
Oh no, the statues don’t have heads!
gymnasium salamis cyprus picture
According to Wikipedia, this was a gymnasium.
pillars gymnasium salamis cyprus ruins
These pillars have all been restored as far as I know, which admittedly isn’t very far, but they look beautiful nonetheless.
public toilets salamis cyprus ruins
These are the public toilets!!!! But don’t ask me how they work.
gymnasium cyprus salamis photograph
Another view of the gymnasium.
salamis cyprus ruins field photograph
The green and the blue and the sun and the spotty clouds combined into a purely delightful view.
salamis cyprus wall ruins
There were a lot of parts of a wall and half formed arches, all overgrown and crumbling. That’s how I like my ruins.
snails grass salamis cyprus
Life in the dead city! These little snails were all over the place.
salamis cyprus ruins ocean
I can only imagine how gorgeous this city must have been in its glory days, with the sea in the background.
amphitheater salamis cyprus ruins photograph
The amphitheater is huge and you can run and climb all over it, since it’s been restored and isn’t actually thousands of years old. Only kind of.
amphitheater cyprus salamis statue
What amphitheater would be complete without a headless statue?
salamis ruins pillars cyprus
Unsure of what this is, but it was large and there were a lot of pillars involved. Perhaps the Temple of Zeus?
pillar salamis cyprus photograph picture
It’s so cool that you can still see the carvings at the top of some of these pillars. Incredible!
carved stone salamis cyprus roman
SO COOL. Could I have a Roman travel forward in time and carve some pillars for me, too?
exit steps arch walls ruins salamis cyprus
Saying goodbye to the neat walkways and old rocks.

Salamis, you’ve been a treat. And I’ll be back… with a better camera.

squiggle3

Have you ever been to Cyprus or to the ruins of Salamis? What do you think life was like in this city, back in Roman times? How did you like those toilets?

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11 Christmas Gifts for Travelers, Vagabonds and Wanderers

christmas gift traveler
Gifts! Whoopie!

Shopping for a traveler, let alone a perpetual traveler can be tough. Those who spend a lot of time on the road usually tend to reject the notion of “stuff” and try to be as minimalist as possible. If the traveler you know has sold their home, then it’s even harder to shop; if your gift isn’t well-received, it will probably be left behind somewhere, maybe re-gifted to someone you don’t know or left at the local Goodwill donation center. So what should you buy someone who is easily burdened by the unnecessary? What should you give a traveler for Christmas?

Being a traveler myself, a person without a house to keep things in and someone who is constantly shedding their belongings to fit them in a suitcase, I thought I’d offer some tips. But I, just one person, can’t speak for everyone. Each traveler is different, but hopefully this list at least sparks an idea for you. Christmas shopping is hard, I know, and my mom can vouch that it’s especially hard when you’re shopping for a moving target.

So here are my suggestions.

eBooks

Provided your traveler enjoys reading and has an eReader (many of us do!), then eBooks are always a hit. Not only can you buy and deliver this gift from the comfort of your chair, but the traveler doesn’t have to jump through any post office/redemption hoops. They just need to find WiFi. And within minutes, they’ll be reading.

The tricky part is which book to get them. As this is a highly personal choice, I’d recommend getting a third-party to ask if they have a wish list somewhere and shopping from there. If you have to shoot blindly, then a wanderlust-inciting story is usually a safe bet.

Note: if your traveler doesn’t have an eReader, then you may need to help them. I’d recommend the Kindle Paperwhite; I’ve had mine for two months and it’s revolutionized my (literary) life.

I wish I could own these, but having them in E-book form is the second best option.
I wish I could own these, but having them in eBook form is the second best option.

Thin, Versatile Clothing

Folks on the road are constantly wearing their clothes out. While it’s easy to buy clothes abroad, it’s also nice to be gifted quality threads. Traveling clothes usually need to be lightweight, frill-free and easy to wear in a variety of situations. Think t-shirts, thin sweaters and undershirts, neutral colors or classic patterns, like stripes. For most jet-setters, trends fall to the wayside while comfort and usability become paramount.

I packed for five months in one bag; sadly, there wasn’t a lot of room for fashion.

A Custom Map Key Chain/Necklace

A nomad’s life is place-independent and yet, completely fixated on location; a strange mix. Getting a traveler a small token of a special place they’ve been, where they are from or where their loved ones are is a sure way to put a smile on your wanderer’s face. And the gift is small, which is a must.

You can find several shops on Etsy that will put any map into a necklace/key chain/tie fastener/etc and for not too much money. This shop, Brass and Chain, has a nice mix of items and won’t break the bank.

map necklace christmas gift traveler
A little bit of home, wherever you go. (Or a little bit of Rome, no matter how long you’re at home!)

Small Notebooks

Situations pop up all the time when traveling where the vagabond in question needs to write something of importance down for later. Scraps of paper are easily lost and memory can be faulty; sometimes language barriers require a drawing of some kind. A small, portable notebook is always a big help on the road and serves as a principle place to put down directions, phone numbers, the address of that night’s hostel or anything else of importance.

I’m a Moleskine girl, all the way. I use this small, soft-covered version with a grid inside, but you can also get notebooks hard-covered, lined or blank inside and in different sizes.

moleskine notebook christmas present vagabond
When you gotta write, you gotta write.

Socks

You know when you were younger and opened up a present, then hid your disappointment with a big exaggerated thank you, because Aunt Susan gave you socks, again? Well this is the opposite reaction of those always on the road; socks are destroyed and smelly in short order and constantly need replaced. If you give socks to your favorite traveler, the thank you and accompanying smile will be genuine. Their feet will thank you, as well.

socks christmas gift wanderer
New socks are pure happiness.

An Unlocked Smart Phone

This gift is only for the rich among us, as buying smart phones out of contract is tremendously expensive. Any traveler can tell you that their smart phone is their life and not because it can make phone calls. Essentially a smart phone can be used simply as a mini computer, when it has access to WiFi, and in-country SIM cards can be purchased just about everywhere, so wandering foreigners can call their hostel if they’re in a jam. If your traveling friend has an old or broken smart phone, no phone or even worse, a Blackberry (!!!), then they would likely be very appreciative of an iPhone 5, for instance. The obvious downside is this gift is pricey.

This is a real stock photo that came up when I searched "iPhone". I'm dying of laughter. (I'm sorry, I couldn't not include this in the blog post.)
This is a real stock photo that came up when I searched “iPhone”. I’m dying of laughter. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t not include this in the blog post.)

A Wide Scarf

Travelers all know of the usefulness of a good scarf; not only can it keep your neck warm, but it can cover your head in conservative places, double as a towel when in need, cover legs in the middle of doing laundry, keep breakables from breaking… the uses go on. Just make sure you buy a scarf wide enough to be versatile and lightweight enough to bring everywhere.

While I haven’t purchased from FashionABLE myself, I’ve heard tons of positive things not only about the scarves themselves, but also the business. Ethiopian women make these scarves by hand and get the opportunity to leave poverty behind at the same time.

Erm, yes. Scarves can also be headbands.
Erm, yes. Scarves can also be headbands. [Source.]

Camera Gear

Chances are your vagabond wants to document what they’re seeing either for themselves, for you, or possibly a wider audience. While I don’t have one myself, every traveler and their mother mentions GoPro cameras as a must-have. It’s essentially an ultra-durable and waterproof camera with excellent video capabilities. If your traveler already has one, they may be lusting over the GoPro head-strap for situations where they need both hands. If your vagabond is more of a DSLR kind of guy/gal when it comes to photography, they may want a GorillaPod when extra hands are unavailable. Camera gear can become heavy and burdensome, though, so proceed with caution and understanding; this gift is a hit or miss.

The days of disposable cameras are over, please don't give one of these to anyone with itchy feet.
The days of disposable cameras are over, please don’t give one of these to anyone with itchy feet.

Buy What They’re Selling

If your wandering friend is on the road long-term, chances are they are offering some kind of service to make money while mobile. Lots of travelers have written and sell eBooks, some people offer web design services, yet others offer prints of their photographs (like me!) or the chance to buy a postcard from them. Whatever it is that your friend is offering, consider sending them a big order. You could even buy from your favorite vagabond as a Christmas gift, and then give that product to someone else who’d appreciate it more than you. Two birds with one stone, my friend, you’ve just double Christmas shopped.

The well known Hecktic Travels, one of many bloggers selling an eBook.
The well-known Hecktic Travels, one of many bloggers selling an eBook.

A Gift Receipt

Aside from straight cash, this may be the best gift you could give a traveler. Whatever it is you decide to buy, always remember to include either a gift receipt or contact information for doing a return/getting a refund. No wanderlusting friend wants to leave your gift behind because they couldn’t figure out how to return it and pick up something more useful. And you wouldn’t want them to: always give the option of returning/exchanging your present.

The magic little white piece of paper.
The magic little white piece of paper. (Okay, this is not a picture of a gift receipt but I didn’t have much to work with, when it comes to stock photos…)

Money

Plane tickets are getting more expensive, but your friend’s desire to see the world is probably still on the rise. There’s nothing better than receiving money, and if you want to make sure the money is put to good use, write a little note about what you’d like your friend to put it towards. Flights always need paid, hostels booked, and buses paid for. If your vagabond is young, chances are they have a loan or two that is keeping them from total freedom. If they blog, then they may have yearly web hosting costs. Sending them $50 to help them on their way, even just a little bit, is a gesture that every traveler appreciates.

Every traveler's dream: a green Christmas.
Every traveler’s dream: a green Christmas.

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Travelers, what’s on your Christmas list this year? What’s the best vagabond-related gift that you’ve ever received?

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My Top 5 Wanderlist

Everyone dreams, some of us of fancy cars and others of simply a day off. I dreamed of pizza last night, but that’s not the kind of dream I’m talking about. I mean the dreams of the heart, the mental bucket list. My fantasies are actually filled with solitary retreats and books or alternatively, spectacular jaunts abroad in fascinating locations. That probably comes as no surprise to readers, considering my recent Reading Roundup Series and the topic of this blog.

So, while thinking about all the places I’d like to visit, I decided to put them together in a definitive list. Why not? I found it too hard to rank them, though, so I’ve put them in alphabetical order. Enjoy this little trip across the world, though only in thought this time. One day.

Note: I’ve not included any photographs, since I didn’t want to steal and I don’t have of my own. I’d recommend doing a Google image search, if you’re curious about what these countries look like.

 

Egypt

This first one needs a provision: I want to visit Egypt, but as a man. I’m really put off by the sheer number of stories of sexual harassment coming out of such a gorgeous country. So if I could be a man for a month or so, I’d love to spend that month traveling around Egypt and seeing all the beautiful, super super old sights. The Pyramids, the Red Sea, desert landscapes and access to an ocean; the sheer variety sends my head reeling. And the food, oh the food! Legumes and vegetables? Right up my alley. An image search of “Egyptian Food” sets my saliva production into overdrive. As much as I’d love to do all of these things, I’m fairly sure that dealing with sexual harassment for the entirety of my trip would kind of ruin it. So I’d like to be a man, or I’ll just have to wait 10 years for the social climate to improve. Shame.

 

Iran

These days, the only things we see in the news about Iran are things like “nuclear weapons!”, “negotiations”, and “WWIII?” But the Iranian government is a far cry from representative of the people, fortunately (and unfortunately). I took a semester of Farsi, the language in Iran, and it sparked my interest in the country. My teacher was a strong, fierce woman with a palatable love for her culture and people; it must have rubbed off on me. I want to see the landscape, the rock sculptures and old ruins, but I more than anything want to try the food. Once again, that image search just blows my taste buds away. Warning, don’t look if you’ve not eaten lunch/dinner/breakfast yet, you’re only asking for it.

 

Norway

I’m not sure why, but I’m really fascinated with extreme northern climates, particularly the Arctic circle, these days. Norway seems like such a beautiful country, with Oslo down “south” and then extreme, gorgeous landscapes farther north. I may or may not have spent at least an hour or two recently pulling that little figure on Google Maps around and looking at the street views all over northern Norway. I’m also fascinated by the concept of 24 hour nights in the winter and the opposite, constant sunlight in the summer. Though in reality, I’m pretty horrible at enduring cold weather, so I fantasize about testing myself and getting through an Arctic Circle winter. Maybe I need to stop reading books about Siberia…

 

Tunisia

There are a lot of random reasons why I’d love to spend some time in Tunisia. First is the landscape; it straddles desert regions and the Mediterranean Sea, which means extreme land transitions. Rad. It’s also in Northern Africa, which means a fascinating coming together of Middle Eastern and African influences. That’s a culture I’d be ecstatic to learn more about. Then, the official language, Arabic, is one I’d like to tackle one day. And the cherry on top, the food looks pretty lip-smacking. If I had to rank these five places, I’d be tempted to put Tunisia right at the top of that list.

 

Vanuatu

I had never heard of Vanuatu until this week, when I was reading about seven volcanic eruptions that happened at the same time. It’s a tiny island, east of Australia, formed by several volcanoes, some that are still active. One of my life-list items is to see lava, so I was immediately interested in this tiny country. It also has a lot of cool indigenous cultures, which are known to be friendly and picture-happy, and it’s an island. Beaches! And one more big plus, one of the official languages is English, which means travel there is infinitely easier. Lastly, a quick Google search of the food there reveals some dishes that look straight up crazy; I’m in. Send me!

I could go on for several pages with places I want to visit, but these five are absolutely at the tippy top of my wanderlist. And now that I’ve written myself into a hunger and wanderlust frenzy, I’m going to try and deal with the half of that problem I can remedy at the moment: feeding myself. If only it was delicious Persian food!

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Have you been to any of these countries? What places are on your wanderlist? Did you also dream about pizza last night?

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The Superpower You Can Cultivate: Foreign Language

This morning is a Saturday, and Saturdays are always a tough day to write a blog post. I dug through my purse to find my external hard drive, hoping that going over some old pictures would spark something that I could use. I quickly realized that I’d accidentally left my external hard drive at work and there would be no access to photographs until Monday. Shucks.

So, I headed over to the Daily Post, who has been posting different prompts for NaBloPoMo writers everyday. Most of these have been much more geared towards personal blogs, and I haven’t had a chance to use a single one yet. But the most recent prompt was a strike of luck. It read:

You get to choose one superpower. Pick one of these, and explain your choice:

– the ability to speak and understand any language
– the ability to travel through time
– the ability to make any two people agree with each other

Now, as a travel/expat blogger, I’m sure you can guess which one of these superpowers I would choose. Time travel, obviously! Jokes. No, I’m convinced that being able to speak and understand any language would be the ultimate superpower, for a myriad of reasons. I’m going to tell you about each and every one of them

Easier & Carefree Travel

This is a pretty obvious benefit. You could literally go anywhere in the world and find a place to sleep, eat and sightsee with minimal effort. Your safety automatically doubles, because if you’re lost you can ask for help, you can get warnings ahead of time about unsafe areas of the region and you are more likely to talk yourself out of any potentially bad situations. You can ask about bigger towels at some tiny, cheap motel and you can read the street signs in the area. Learning the language in a country you’ll be traveling in just makes everything, all around, way better.

A good Spanish word to learn is "Peligro", which means danger. Which is also not something you'd expect on a hill filled with bright yellow flowers.
A good Spanish word to learn is “Peligro”, which means danger. Which is also not something you’d expect on a hill filled with bright yellow flowers.

Hear People’s Stories

Sit down with your hostel owner and a cup of coffee and learn about his family, how he came to open a hostel, what makes him happy in life. Ask the person next to you on the plane where they’re going and what they do for a living. See an elderly Jewish grandmother in Germany and be able to listen to, understand and learn from her experiences in World War II. Ask a little girl what her favorite color is, her favorite book is and whether she has any younger siblings. People are fascinating and they have incredible stories to tell, especially those that live a different life than you. And from people like that, there are endless amounts to learn.

Always Find A Job

This reason is a bit superficial, but you instantly have job security. If you’re ever, and I mean ever, unemployed, speaking rare, difficult languages will solve your problem and quickly. Where there isn’t a translation position (which there always is), there are other corporate positions that just need someone to relay information between two global units of the same company. Talk about breathing easy!

Secret Eavesdropping

Oh, the things people say to each other when they’re alone… or think that no one can understand them. This one is especially lucrative, because you can always pretend you don’t speak a native language and hear both sides of a negotiation. Of course, this also comes with a downside: people say stupid, annoying things all the time. You’ll never again have the illusion that people abroad are less obsessed with the superficial than people in your country.

This line full of Korean people wanting to buy Prada is one example of conversations I'm happy not to eavesdrop on.
This line full of Korean people wanting to buy Prada is one example of conversations I’m happy not to eavesdrop on.

Insane Dreams

Have you ever had one of those bilingual dreams, where one person is speaking English and then in your dream you’re trying to come up with the German words for your response? And then French or Korean or Spanish comes out of nowhere and you wake up super confused? No? Just me? Well, if you can fluently speak and understand every language, everywhere, then you’re going to have some absolutely crazy dreams. That’s pretty cool.

Better Informed

You know when the news only reports one side of an international story? You know when all the newspapers all say the same thing, because there was only one person who was able to translate the Cantonese and that exact translation is the same source for every TV station? Speaking every language would put an end to these limited information scenerios. You could tune into foreign broadcasts, read the newspaper in Spain and even shoot out an email to a contact in Ghana. You would be the best-informed person around.

LEARN spanish travel informed
Learning Spanish means you can read about news in all of South America, from South American sources. That’s pretty valuable.

I’m going to let out a little of my teacher side, now. While it’s probably impossible to learn all of the 6,000 or 7,000 languages in the entire world, it’s totally possible to cultivate a little slice of this superpower. Just by virtue of being able to read this, you’re already able to communicate with nearly 10% of the entire world (a little over half of those people speak English as a second language). If you learn Mandarin, just one second language, you’ve just upped your percentage to 20-25%, depending on that ESL overlap. If you learn Spanish, with 406 million native speakers, you’ve just racked up another 5% of the world with whom you can have a conversation, not adding in second language learners.

You see what I’m saying here? You can actually have 1/4th of a superpower, if you want. Yeah, it’ll take a few years of hard work and looking like a fool (with your pants on the ground! Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) And true, it’s not something you can mindlessly do, you’ll have to put in the time and effort. But you could have one fourth of a superpower! Isn’t that awesome?

That’s why I’ve written a language resource page for Korean and shared other updates on my life, while studying other languages. If other people are inspired to study a foreign language, then they are actively making their own lives better. I’ve experienced these benefits firsthand and they are real. They are significant.

And for me, all of those reasons are what keep me going in my own language studies, be it German, Spanish or now Korean. It’s always, always been worth it. And I can promise it would be for you, too.

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13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best

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When it comes to people, distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. But that phrase came about for a reason, and I think that perhaps, the inventor of that phrase was actually thinking of their hometown when they said it. Ever since I’ve spent time away from home and in other lands, I’ve returned with more and more love for Pittsburgh. Maybe at that exact time Pittsburgh was also getting more and more awesome, which could be the case, but I think I was also wising up to the fact that it’s not such a bad place to be.

And with my upcoming short-term return, my mind has been dwelling on the things I’m looking forward to doing in the city of bridges. I figure that it’s about time that I sing the praises of this random US city to the travel community. Someone has to represent, right? And I’m not just saying Pittsburgh is the best because I’m from there and everything has a nostalgic feeling for me, but I truly think it’s an incredible city to live in and to sight see through. Somehow, Pittsburgh has managed to hold onto its history and past, while also making crazy futuristic advancements in a variety of areas. I love that mix; old and new, past and future. So as a city it’s got a lot to offer, my favorite of which are these following thirteen things.

1// It’s Not Dirty Anymore

So when you think of Pittsburgh, I’m guessing you think of steel or industry or possibly Heinz. Well, the factory central days of Pittsburgh are over, and have been for quite some time. The steel production has all but ceased in the areas near the city, and the air is clean, gloriously clean. One of the old steel mills was actually turned into a giant shopping center with an awesome movie theater and some nonfunctional smoke stacks as a reminder of history. Lovely. The days of black-stained-stone suburban homes are gone, Pittsburgh is as clean as can be these days.

2// Riversides Galore

Downtown Pittsburgh is situated on this triangle of land, surrounded by two rivers and a technical third, created by the rivers merging. Obviously it spills over onto both sides of all three of the rivers, which leads to one wonderful development. Riversides, glorious, river fronts and river walks and river trails galore. There’s a riverside biking/hiking trail, an entire park on “the point”, where the two rivers merge, over the river balconies and restaurants, and other random uses of riverside space. And that doesn’t even touch the boating, river cruises and just ducky tours. Pittsburgh does rivers right.

3// Market Square & PPG Plaza

Market Square and PPG Plaza are a street away from one another, so they’re kind of the same entity. In summer, Market Square has outdoor tables and plenty of restaurants and coffee shops to make sitting outside beautiful. PPG Plaza has cool automated fountains at ground level, so kids can come and run around getting soaked with water on hot days. The mood is always friendly and relaxed, even inside such a busy urban area of downtown. In winter, PPG Plaza is transformed into a giant ice skating arena with a massive Christmas tree in the middle. Tell me that isn’t awesome! You’re wrong! It’s awesome!

Awesome, I tell you.
Awesome, I tell you.

4// It’s Bikeable

There are some parts of the city that are a little terrifying on bicycle, particularly the busy downtown/fifth avenue areas. Thankfully, though, that area is very small, and the majority of the city is actually very accessible to bikers. The Southside always has a million bikers, head East over to Oakland and there are two million bikers, go deeper into Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield and Lawrenceville and you have yourself a biking party at every intersection. You can even bike over bridges. So if you’re visiting, the bike-ability should be a great help, as you can transport yourself places more easily. (Except for Mt. Washington which just can’t be helped, because it’s a giant effing mountain. Sorry.)

5// Kennywood

Do you like amusement parks? Do you like places that have history and character? Do you like really terrifyingly awesome roller coasters and delicious french fries covered in gravy? Then I can assure you that Pittsburgh’s nearby amusement park, Kennywood, is going to be one of your new favorites. It’s been open for over a hundred years, the signs are old-timey, the rides are new-timey/terrifying at times and the food is delicious, heart-attack-inducing deliciousness.

The swings are from the 80s and they're STILL fun.
The swings are from the 80s and they’re STILL fun.

6// The Pirates’ Recent Comeback

So while the last ten years were the Steelers’ golden years, they’ve since fallen into disarray that involves rape lawsuits and less than spectacular game performance. Somewhere in there, the Pens also blew a few people’s minds, but now it’s the Pirates’ turn. While for years Pittsburgh’s baseball team has held records, those have been of the depressing variety: the most consecutive losses, the most years in a row with a losing average, etc. This year, the Pirates came back, kicked butt and advanced pretty far into the playoffs. Pittsburgh baseball has officially gone from zero to hero and that’s pretty damn awesome, if you ask me.

7// The T

If you’re a public transportation nerd and addict, then Pittsburgh public transportation will satisfy you somewhat, though like most US cities, it has a ways to go. But what I love most about Pittsburgh’s public transportation system has been the continued use of the Trolley, affectionately (at least by me) called “The T”. It’s an above ground rail car that also heads underground, depending on the area, and serves most of the southern suburb areas, bringing people into the downtown area and back out. I’m not sure why I like it so much, considering that it can’t get you very far within Pittsburgh and there are only two main lines (and a couple other side shoots), so maybe this item is more nostalgia based than the others. It’s still great. You can’t tell me otherwise.

8// It’s Kind Of Hipster

Recently, someone somewhere said Pittsburgh was more hipster than Portland, Oregon. (So specific, I know!) Looking around areas like Lawrenceville and Squirrel Hill, you could easily believe it. Small businesses abound, fresh produce and fair trade, gluten-free menu items, biking as previously mentioned and farmer’s markets are all getting some solid business in Pittsburgh. You can find grocery store co-ops, tons of local breweries, a restaurant/brewery built inside an old, converted church. The Southside hosts a population that seems to be 100% tattooed and pierced from first glance. I could go on, but just suffice it to say that Pittsburgh is kind of hipster and for people looking for interesting dining/walking experiences, this is a huge plus.

Yep, you go here to drink beer and eat delicious food.
Yep, you go here to drink beer and eat delicious food.

9// Primanti Brothers

Do you like sandwiches? Primanti’s is a city-wide chain that started the way the best places do, as a hole in the wall in 1933, in a busy industrial district. Why is this place still around? Because putting french fries and coleslaw on an Italian bread, deli meat sandwich is GENIUS. Every time I come home, one of the meals I look forward to most is my first Primanti Brothers sandwich. Is it unhealthy? You bet. Is it difficult to bite, because the sandwich the size of half your face? Absolutely. Is it my recommended daily calories, in one meal? Yep. Worth it.

10// The Southside

The Southside isn’t just home to tattooed people and tattoo parlors, it’s a mishmash of interesting things, all down one very long street. (Technically the area is all the Southside, though most people mean East Carson Street when they say the name.) I’d recommend biking down Carson, but if you have the leg power and the time, walking is also a great option. All along the street you’ll find the most eclectic collection of shops: gyro places, tattoo and piercing parlors, pizza shops, independent coffee shops and a pricy sushi restaurant, some hardware stores and fair trade shops, my favorite Burger place Fatheads (that also has a huge selection of local beers), another million piercing places, a hookah bar or two, some normal bars, an Irish bar that has a little person come in on Tuesdays? Thursdays?, and towards the end of the street, a super developed area with fancy designer clothing, H&M and a favorite restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. Talk about a weird mix.

[Note: I’ve just been informed that the aforementioned little person has passed away. RIP.]

Oh, and aside from the newly developed end of E Carson, all those eclectic shops are housed in old, historic buildings. Coolness.
Oh, and aside from the newly developed end of E Carson, all those eclectic shops are housed in old, historic buildings. Coolness.

11// The View From Mount Washington

If you want to get a view of the city (which you do, believe me), then it’s mandatory that you take the incline (trolley up the mountain) up to Mount Washington and go see the overlook. It’s a traditional spot for prom photos, engagement pictures and other picture-worthy occasions, so you won’t be alone up there. But it’s a stunning view, especially at night, and the view does not disappoint. Nor does the intro picture of this post, taken from Mt. Washington, do it justice, you’ll have to go see it yourself.

12// The Newly-elected Mayor Actually Cares

Nothing drags a city down like a crappy government, and while this may have been the case in the past (cough, cough, Ravenstahl and strippers), the future looks bright. Bill Peduto will come into office this January, and he’s already accepting applications for transition committees to get things running smoothly is a bunch of areas. As far as I can tell, Peduto is actually…. ethical. Insane for a politician, right? And when the mayor actually cares about the city he’s supposed to work for, then good things are on the horizon. Hurray.

13// Green Things

Did you know that Pittsburgh is actively trying to make the city buildings environmentally friendly? In the USA, Pittsburgh is 4th in line for having the most green buildings. The convention center is LEED-certified, seven Carnegie Mellon University buildings are “green” and the list goes on. The commitment to green space within the downtown area is easy to see and if you head farther East, towards the city neighborhoods, you can find tons of park and grass areas. Who doesn’t love green?

The Phipps Conservatory has a "green" visitors center, too!
The Phipps Conservatory has a “green” visitors center, too!

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Have you ever been to Pittsburgh? What do you love about the city? Do you disagree with anything? What’s the best sandwich from Primanti Brothers?

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Photoessay: Stunning Sunsets in Rural Korea

My area, particularly Waymok Beach is actually quite famous within Korea for its incredible sunsets. I live a few kilometers from the famed beach view, but my view of the sunset is usually pretty stunning, regardless. Framed by seemingly endless rice paddies, some beautiful cloud formations and a distant ocean, I’ve managed to capture a few killer shots. I also took a little trip to the nearby seawall to capture the photographs with the pagoda in them.

So enjoy this assortment of the most gorgeous sunsets I’ve seen in my area, and my attempts to catch them on camera. Whoever said that the countryside was boring obviously didn’t look around long enough to catch these beautiful moments.

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