BootsnAll Travel Network

Welcome to my blog!

June 10th, 2007

Hello guests ~ I am preparing to embark on an adventure to Asia and I am pleased that you will be joining me. 

The first stop on the tour is Bangkok, Thailand.   I arrive in Bangkok around midnight on Tuesday, June 12 (if all goes well during the 21+ hour flight from Minneapolis) and plan to make the first blog entry the following day.

Thanks for checking in!  Come back again soon ~ Nancy


Welcome to Bangkok

June 14th, 2007

Hello all ~
Before I left, I read the books, I read the blogs … but nothing could prepare me for the noise, the pollution, and the heat of Bangkok. As soon as I arrived at the airport, all my senses were on overload. When I arrived at my hotel at 1 am Wednesday, the air temp was 35 degrees C (95 degrees F) – what?! Fortunately, my room is consistently 24 degrees C. Delightful!

Wednesday is my personal “orientation” day. Following a refreshing morning swim and a sumptuous breakfast buffet, I ventured off to the nearest SkyTrain station to purchase an unlimited ride pass. Bangkok has quite an impressive public transportation system – the pass allows me to ride the SkyTrain, subway, and bus, hop-on-hop-off, from end to end of the city. I did get hopelessly lost a few times, but everyone has been very friendly and helpful with directions.

bangkok.jpg Today (Thursday) has been dedicated to sightseeing. I found the easiest way to get to many of the most popular attractions is to take a boat that stops at the many piers, debark and walk around, and then get back on to motor to the next pier.

My first stop was China Town – colorful, exotic, smelly, and very crowded.
The second stop was Wat Pho and Wat Arun. Wat Pho is the largest temple in Thailand and home to the huge reclining buddha, 46 meters in length and covered in gold leaf. Wat Arun is one of the most beautiful temples. The spire is on of Bangkok’s landmarks – 70 meters high and covered with colored glass and porcelain in intricate patterns. Absolutely stunning.
The next stop was Maharaj Pier, around which there are many interesting places, including the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), the National Palace, etc. The Grand Palace is the “must see” sight in Bangkok. Once the official home of the King of Siam, the Palace now house government offices and the Chapel Royal of the Emerald Buddha. Wat Phra Kaeo is the most important temple in Thailand, home to Phra Kaew Morakot, the image of a revered Buddha carved from a single block of jade. Beautiful and fascinating.

I spent the better part of the afternoon on or near the river. It’s nearly impossible to walk too far in the oppressive heat without stopping for a snack and a drink – not such a bad thing, as the food is FANTASTIC! I’m not certain that I can identify everything that I’ve eaten, but if it smells good I will try it. The only thing I have declined is whatever is in the plastic bag that is consumed through a straw. It seems quite popular, but I do have my limits.

When I returned to the hotel, I shared an elevator with a man from St Paul – yes, St Paul, Minnesota. Small world, isn’t it. He is returning from a volunteer stint in Cambodia and decided to stayover in Bangkok on his way home. I’ve also met several Americans at the pool.

I think I’ve had enough sightseeing and walking for today. There’s an Irish pub down the street that looks promising – how can I turn down the offer of bangers and mash?

Thanks for checking in! All is well – N


a special note re: the bizarre

June 14th, 2007

In addition to the normal and interesting, I am in search of the bizarre. Here are my choices for the top three:

 The Goddess Tubtirm Shrine, which is dedicated entirely to the male phallus – hundreds of oversized penises of all shapes and sized. Women visit the shrine when they are trying to conceive and return to the shrine is their wish is fulfilled. Quite unusual.


 At the Forensic Museum, you can see the carefully preserved remains of a mass-murdering cannibal, glass jars containing deformed babies, and autopsy photographs. Not for the faint-of-heart. Nasty.


Coming in at number 3, the Corrections Museum, which offers a full arsenal of sadistic punishments used on prisoners in the past. Truly horrifying.




Kathmandu – fantastic!

June 19th, 2007

nepal_map.gif  Hello from Kathmandu!  It’s Tuesday, June 19. I apologize for the delay in posting. While internet service is “available” everywhere in Kathmandu, the connection is very slow and a bit unpredictable. I arrived Kathmandu late Friday night, slept well, and awoke to the sounds some sort of farm animal outside my window.  I thought I was getting up at 7 am, but it was closer to 5:45 local time (I don’t know where the 15 minute increment comes from ….)  Anxious to explore the city, I got up to wander about the streets, seeking water and breakfast, before my first day of orientation and training began at 9.

Kathmandu has no underground sewer system, no adequate water supply, only a few properly paved streets – but above all, it has no money. I have never seen or experienced such extreme poverty. The first day was very shocking, but I’ve adjusted to it after a few days and actually find it beautiful and fascinating. Saturday and Sunday were busy with Nepali language classes and sightseeing. On Monday we traveled to our training village in Dhukiel, where we had dinner and stayed overnight with our host family. On Tuesday, my entire household (including me) was up at 5 am to do morning chores (collecting water, laundry, feeding livestock)and then I was able to go with the women to the rice field. We returned to the home for morning dhal bhat, followed by 3 hours of Nepali language training. I returned to Kathmandu yesterday evening. Today is my day off to do laundry and prepare for my placement in Chitwan. I will either be teaching in a Children’s resource center or working at the construction site of a new childrens home. I plan to stay in Chitwan until the 28th or 29th, return to Kathmandu, and then leave for Lhasa a few days later.

Thanks for checking in!  I’m happy and healthy – all is well.  Take care!  N


I have returned from the jungle

June 24th, 2007

DSCF01621.JPG   I have returned to Kathmandu after spending just a few days in the village of Ganganagar, a remote area not far from Chitwan National Park. I helped the school children with their English and math homework in the mornings (6:15-8:30) and gathered the village children for basic hygiene and basic English (ABC, 123) in the afternoon. The organization I’m working with is building a new Resource Center in the village, so the classes are held wherever possible – my morning class was in a grain storage shed and the afternoon class was in a field or any open spot.

chitwan.jpg  The temperatures have been challenging – the other day it was 38.3 degrees C (101 degrees F) – a cool 35.9 C (96.7 F) in the shade. Obviously there is no air conditioning, no ice, no pools, no relief.

Thanks for the comments! I’ll try to answer some of your questions.

What is dhal bhat? Dhal Bhat is a big platter with a massive serving of rice, some dhal (usually lentil or chick-pea soup), and a vegetable curry. Dhal bhat is what everyone eats every day at 9 am and 7 pm, with very little variety. If I never see another grain of rice after this trip, that will be fine with me …. really, I’m serious.

What do the women wear when they are working in the fields? Regardless of how poor they are, the women always wear beautiful sarees or unmarried women may wear tunic and pants. The women haved loaned clothing to me so I don’t dirty my Western clothing.

How many people am I working with? There are currently about 20-30 volunteers working on a variety of placements all over Nepal. Some have been here almost a year, but most volunteers sign up for 4-8 weeks.

Where do we live? While in Kathmandu we can stay at the volunteer house/children’s home or in a local hotel. While in the villages, we stay with a host family.

Do we have “free time”? Yes, we are encouraged to travel and participate in as many outside activities as possible – trekking (of course), white water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle safari …

I went on a brief jungle trek the other day. It was exhausting and quite unnerving, as all there was between Mona (my “sister”) and me and the rhino and tigers and bears was a narrow river, full of alligators or crocodiles or something …. Like I said, it was a brief trek.  I did manage to get a photo of the baby elephant that was on “my side” of the river ….

baby elephant trek

Every day is filled with new experiences and sights. Yesterday, I saw a truck rambling through the village with about 9 people and a water buffalo in the back. On the way back to Kathmandu from Narazadi, I rode on the roof of the bus, with a goat.  But I’m trying to remember if there was anything truly unusual ….

I’m pleased to be back in Katmandu.  I’m staying in a hotel for a few days, for some quiet time and to enjoy the amenities (hot water, flush toilets, restaurant food).  One more week and then I’ll begin my travels in SE Asia. I’ll post again before I leave!


exploring Kathmandu

June 24th, 2007

kathmandu-nepal.jpg I can’t even begin to describe how incredible this place it – I just can’t do it justice. You really have to see it to believe it. I have already visited a number of temples and a monastery, witnessed the Hindu ceremonial burning of a corpse, bartered in the markets, experienced the nightlife at a disco in Thamel – so much! Village life is a completely different world – squat toilets, community bathing, limited electricity, few telephones or internet. While short on modern conveniences, the villages offer rich experiences, like riding with a goat on the roof of a bus, endless trekking opportunites, and the opportunity to spend time with lovely and friendly Nepali people.

I’m dedicating the next few days to exploring the city of Kathmandu. It is monsoon season and it’s been raining most of the afternoon, so many of the streets are washed out completely or just a terrible muddy mess, but that shouldn’t slow me down too much. Taxis and rickshaws are plentiful and inexpensive, so I should be able to cover quite a bit of territory. If the weather clears, I may venture outside the city limits. I will let you know what I find!


hey, who turned out the lights?

June 26th, 2007

We’ve been without electricity most of the day.  Sadly, my favorite German bakery across the street has not able to bake and serve any delicious breads today, but I was still able to enjoy a pot of milk tea on the deck this morning while I waited for the electric to be restored.  Fortunately, I’ve made friends with the guy at the internet cafe and he is letting me use the one computer with a battery backup.  It’s a good day.

Yesterday was quite enjoyable.  The weather was a bit cooler after the rains on Sunday and I was able to take a taxi to Nagarkot, a popular tourist town about 20 miles outside of Kathmandu at an altitude of 2175 m (7000 feet). On a clear day, the major peaks of eastern Nepal Himalayas including Sagarmath (Mt Everest) can be seen from here. Unfortunately, my simple camera cannot capture the spectacular view …

Can you see the photo?

Nagarkot   I returned to Kathmandu for a delicious curry lunch so hot it made my lips numb and spent the remainder of the afternoon walking, browsing the shops, and getting lost in the mass of humanity.


Namaste Nepal

June 26th, 2007

 Namaste means Hello/Goodbye in Nepali.

I am leaving for Bangkok this afternoon.  I have just enought time for a pot of milk tea, drop-off at the 1 hr laundry, and a quick post before I leave for the airport.


The reason I came to Nepal was to serve as a volunteer, to teach English and work with the children.  Most of the volunteers work in schools and children’s homes in placements all over Nepal. The children’s homes are set up for orphans and children whose parents cannot care for them. The homes are established in quiet neighborhoods to give the children a safe environment. During my placement in the remote village of Ganganagar, I helped the children with English, Geography, History and Math homework in the mornings and then gathered the street children for hygiene and basic English in the afternoons.

All of the volunteers I worked with had plenty of time for traveling and sightseeing.  Here is a quick summary of the highlights:

Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is a city of temples and shrines and living Gods, where worship of God and Goddesses is a legend and public part of daily life.  The altitude in Kathmandu is 1370 meters (4500 feet) compared to 250 meters (about 800 feet) in Minnesota.  The initial adjustments weren’t that difficult, but the altitude changes would prove challenging as time progressed.

Thamel – The Thamel area is the most popular tourist area of Kathmandu, with plenty of lodges and hotels, restaurants, bars, and tourist-oriented shops.  I am staying at a guest house in Thamel, just a few blocks from the placement office.

Durbar Square – One of the top attractions of Kathmandu, the square has more than 50 Temples and shrines within a few blocks of one another. Durbar means “King” and it was from the Royal Palace on the square that the kings of Nepal once ruled. The buildings here are representative of the great rivalry between the three palaces of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.

  BOUDANATH-NEPAL.jpg  Boudhnath – One of the world’s largest stupa, Boudha is generally acknowledged to be the most important Tibetan Buddhist monument outside Tibet. Tibetans simply call it CHORTEN CHEMPO “Great Stupa”. It has now become the Mecca of Tibetan exiles in Nepal.

Pashupatinath – The temple of Pashupatinath is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is situated on the banks of sacred Bagmati River. It is a pagoda style temple with a gilt roof and richly carved silver doors. During the festival of Shivratri, held in the month of February or March thousand of pilgrims from all over Nepal and India descend on Pashupatinath.  This is where we saw the burning corpse.

DSCF0105.JPG   Dhulikhel is where we stayed during our training camp.  Dhulikhel is situated at an altitude of 5500 Ft , about 20 miles (and a 90 minute drive!) east of Kathmandu.  It is a magnificent place to spend the night and awaken to the sun rising across the wide Himalayan range.

DSCF0162.JPG    My village placement was in Ganganagar, not far from Royal Chitwan National Park. The national park is large area of low, heavily forested hills bordering >strong>India in the south, home to the one horned rhino, leopard, varieties of deer, wild boar and around 400 species of birds. The park, formerly a royal hunting reserve, covers nearly 400 square miles of dense forest and also home to nearly 60 Bengal Tigers. The Elephant grass at this time of the year grows up to 20 feet, which is still too short to provide cover to rhinos.  Amazing.

nepal-everest-trekking-tour.jpg  Pokhara is about 125 miles southwest of Kathmandu and is the starting and/or finishing point for some of the popular treks. The enormous scenic valley of Pokhara is covered by forested hills, three crystal blue lakes, waterfalls, and terraced fields.  Pokhara also offers excellent views of Dhaulagiri, Himalchuli, the five peaks of Annapurna and Machapuchare.  Absolutely mind-bogglingly beautiful …

Thanks for the questions and comments.  Many have mentioned the “culture shock” which I guess I really haven’t addressed much yet … perhaps in the next posting.  Until then –



is this heaven?

June 27th, 2007

I arrived at my hotel this evening – I don’t know where the hell I am, but I’m in Bangkok …. somewhere. I’m a bit concerned that I may have died and gone to heaven. My room is HUGE, with air conditioning (!!), a double bed, a balcony, a bathtub, and …. get ready … not one, but TWO rolls of soft toilet paper!! I think I may never leave.

The flight from Kathmandu on Royal Nepal was outstanding – I enjoyed free cocktails and a wonderful curry meal, attended to every need by beautifully dressed attendants.   ahhh…   It was hot (32 degrees celsius) when we arrived in Bangkok, but it’s cooling down a bit now and am tossing around the idea of strolling the area before it gets too late.  Or maybe it can wait until tomorrow …

I plan to stay in Bangkok a couple days and then venture off to another location for the remainder of my free time before I fly to Shanghai on July 6.


okay, let’s talk about culture shock

June 28th, 2007

You’ve probably heard the words ‘culture shock’ thrown around whenever people discuss traveling to a faraway land. Probably, a true understanding of what culture shock feels like can’t occur until you live through it. Amazingly, it didn’t hit me until last night around midnight and then it hit like a ton of bricks. There are intense, unpleasant feelings that come along with culture shock – fear, paranoia, frustration, and anxiousness – I guess the result of a series of dramatic changes in surroundings and daily life. It’s a painful, jolting experience to go through. It’s hard to describe, but when you’ve had culture shock, you know it.

Imagine losing the ability to speak, read, write, and most importantly, understand what is being said. It can be overwhelming at first seeing completely foreign characters written everywhere and hearing the unfamiliar sounds of a new language completely surround you, especially after living in a country where English is the dominant language. Everything from street signs, package labels, instruction booklets, and TV shows are all in a different language. Suddenly, simple things like reading a map, hailing a cab, ordering food, or asking how much an item costs become very difficult. When you don’t know the language the culture shock is a bit more in your face. It’s just an ever-present feeling that “this isn’t home.”

When I arrived in Bangkok a couple weeks ago, I was very nervous about going “out”. It was frightening and it took courage for me to actually leave the relative comfort of my room. I just forced myself to go out into the street and reminded myself there’s nothing to be frightened of. I think the reason it hit me last night was that I had absolutely no clue where I was (Bangkok is a BIG city) and I was feeling terribly alone. The best thing for me to do was get up early and get out, so that’s what I did – walked around for several hours until I got my bearings straight, rode the subway and the skytrain, even managed to ride the bus for a few blocks – and now I feel much better.

I don’t know why I didn’t have the culture shock in Nepal. From the moment you step off the plane, you are in a world where very little is familiar. Combine that with jet lag, thin air and smog, streets with no names and gods with many names all conspire to confuse, challenge, and astound …  Nepal is definitely not for everyone, but I felt prepared to accept and respect a completely different culture. The people are remarkably beautiful and peaceful, and I felt accepted and appreciated.  There were definitely some challenges (lack of modern plumbing, hot water and electricity) and I did have some feelings of being isolated, particularly in the villages, but I did not really have the discomfort that swept over me last night. While culture shock is a vile process to go through, it has some virtues.  I think it probably makes you stronger – maybe the more “culture shock” you experience, the stronger you become. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.


I’ll have a Singapore Sling, please

June 30th, 2007

I left Bangkok this morning at the crack of dawn for my flight to Singapore.

Singapore has a reputation as a foodie mecca and I just happen to be here during the Singapore Food Festival (coincidence? I think not!) I started grazing at a “hawker center” – a street food court when you can see and smell and eat almost anything. I was initially fascinated by the barbecued stingray, but there was so much to choose from that I had to pass it up in favor of some other notable dishes, including:
Chilli Crab (yes, that’s how they spell it), which is stir-fried crab (still in its shell), garlic, tomato, egg, and chili. You eat this dish with your fingers and it comes with bread to soak up the sauce. Spicy.
Frog Porridge looks sort of like thick chicken and rice soup, but it’s frog meat and rice porridge with fried onions on top. It’s considered a delicacy, I guess, but I thought it was icky.
Laska – all the restaurants claim to have the best – a dish of rice, noodles, shrimp, chili, and coconut broth. It looks kinda weird, but it’s good.
And finally, no visit to Singapore would be complete without sampling the Singapore Sling in the Raffles Hotel Long Bar where it was first concocted in 1910.

With my belly full, it was time to hop on the train again and head for the ethnic enclaves of Little Italy, Chinatown, and Arab Street. Pretty amazing! After exploring the neighborhoods for a while, I went to browse the shops along Orchard Road, a mile-long stretch dedicated entirely to consumerism. Unfortunately for me, but probably fortunate for my budget, I am a MOOSE compared to the average (5 feet tall, size 0) shopper here, so the fashions won’t be coming home with me. I ended my day with a nice stroll by the water and then back to my hotel, conveniently located across the street from this internet cafe.

Tomorrow morning I travel to Malaysia, crossing at Johor Bahru and traveling north and west. I probably won’t make it as far a Kuala Lumpur, but I’m sure I will see great stuff wherever I go. I let you know after I return!

Thanks for checking in – N

PS – I forgot to mention during the food and beverage discussion that I had MILK today – not SOY milk, not hot (boiled) WATER BUFFALO milk, but a huge glass of COLD PASTEURIZED COW’S milk – well, I’m pretty sure it was cow’s milk … let’s just say it was ….


what is that funky smell?

July 3rd, 2007

DSCF02611.JPG  No doubt it is a durian, the small football-shaped, prickly fruit that has such a powerful odor that the raw fruit has been banned from many hotels, subways, airports, and most public transportation is Southeast Asia.  Really, the odor of the durian can be described as rotting garbage + turpentine + onions, garnished with dirty laundry. It can be smelled from yards away.  Absolutely putrid.  How can I resist the temptation to try this much-loved, often-feared fruit?

So, when you get this smelly rascal open, how does durian taste?  Kind of like a cross between a peach and raw garlic, with undertones of rotten … something.  The texture is almost creamy, like eating custard.  I was happy to spit it out in a nearby garbage can, but that was not the end of it – the taste of the durian lingers despite the swish-and-spit technique I have incorporated with a gigantic bottle of mineral water.

I think that is the end of my food adventures for today.  The durian – demystified.


Pulau Ubin

July 3rd, 2007

I spent the day on the island of Pulau Ubin, the last ‘kampung’ (village) in Singapore.  Ubin is a great day trip spent walking or pedaling on rustic roads and hiking shady trails and checking out secluded beaches.

The only way to get to Pulau Ubin from the main island of Singapore is a 15-minute bumboat ride from the Changi Village jetty at the affordable cost of $2.  In order for his trip to be worth his while, the boatman will not leave until there is a minimum of 12 passengers. Fortunately, we did not have to wait for long before we had the right number.

The best way to get around is on a bicycle, which you can rent for $2/day from the shops as you get off the jetty. One of the current popular tourist attractions on the island is Tanjung Chek Jawa. A previous coral reef about 5,000 years ago, Chek Jawa can be said to be virtually unspoilt, with a variety of marine wildlife comparable to other islands, such as sea hares (large molluscs), sea squirts. octopuses, starfishes, sand dollars, a variety of fishes, sea sponges, cuttlefishes, and sea slugs.

The people who live on Ubin are friendly and unassuming. Time appears to have frozen (for a while) here, even though it’s just a few minutes away from the city.  My goal for the day was to do nothing, absolutely nothing, until I have to return to the airport for my (very early) morning flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand.  And I succeeded.

Please google Pulau Ubin if you get a chance. Enjoy!


Sayonara Singapore

July 3rd, 2007

DSCF0201.JPG  It has been a pleasure to visit Singapore for a few days.  The food has been excellent (with few exceptions), the public transportation system is fabulous – I zipped around the island via bus, taxi, train, and on foot with no problem.  Here is a quick summary of the areas I visited:

Little India – This modest but colorful area of wall-to-wall shops, pungent aromas, and Hindi music is where I stayed while in Singapore. Centred around the southern end of Serangoon Rd, this is the place to eat great food and watch streetside cooks fry chapatis.  The Zhujiao Centre is the main market, but there are also interesting spice shops nearby. The best temples are Sri Veeramakaliamman, Sri Srinivasa Perumal, and the glitzy Temple of 1000 Lights.

Arab Street – The Muslim centre of Singapore is a traditional textile district, full of batiks from Indonesia, silks, sarongs and shirts. Add to this mix rosaries, flower essences, hajj caps, songkok hats, basketware and rattan goods, and you have a fair idea of the products haggled over in this part of the city.  The grand Sultan Mosque is the biggest and liveliest mosque in Singapore, but the tiny Malabar Muslim Jama-ath Mosque is the most beautiful.

Chinatown – Chinatown provides numerous temples, decorated terraces and frantic conglomeration of merchants, shops and activity. Unfortunately much of Chinatown has been torn down and redeveloped over the past 30 years, but it’s still a fascinating place to explore.

Orchard Road – A shopping paradise!  A main attraction for tourists, lured here by the shopping centres, nightspots, restaurants, bars and lounges.

Pulau Ubin – I enjoyed my day trip to this little island nestled between Singapore and Malaysia.

Changi Village – Changi Village, on the east coast, no longer has traditional kampong houses but it does have a bit of village atmosphere. Though the beach may not exactly be a tropical paradise, it does have the advantage of being almost deserted during the weekdays. On the way to Changi Village it is worth visiting the infamous Changi Prison. The complex is still used as a prison but next to the main gate is the Changi Chapel and Museum, which holds a replica of the chapel used by interned Allied prisoners during WWII. Memorabilia and notes pinned to the walls of the chapel are a reminder of that particular part of Asian history.

One place that I did not have a chance to visit is the world-class Singapore Zoo. Set on a peninsula, the zoo is home to more than 4000 residents. Endangered species include Komodo dragons, malodorous white rhinos, a charismatic orangutan colony, and blue-eyed white tigers with paws as big as your face. The zoo also claims to have the world’s largest primate collection.

Final comments – Singapore is a busy, efficient, and very clean city – I definitely recommend a visit!  Singapore is expensive when compared to other places in SE Asia, but it still attracts quite a few backpackers and hostelers, and it’s been great fun meeting up the the Europeans and Aussies and exchanging travel stories.  If you are a fan of the tropics, Singapore is apparently one giant sauna at any time of the year – it is very hot and very humid.  I am looking forward to my next destination in a slightly cooler climate.

Off we go!


Chiang Mai, Thailand

July 5th, 2007

wat-bupparam-naga.jpg   BIG THANKS to Joel for recommending a visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand.  It is a beautiful city, surrounded by a ring of mountains, with seven hundred years of history and over 300 Buddist temples (“wats”).  Since I was only in Chiang Mai for about 30 hours (Wednesday and Thursday) I didn’t get to see all of them, but here are a few that I did visit:

wat-doi-suthep.jpgWat Phrathat Doi Suthep: the most famous temple in the area, rises behind the city and provides a dramatic backdrop. This temple dates from 1383. Its builders allegedly chose its site by placing a relic of the Lord Buddha on an elephant’s back and letting the elephant roam until it came across a place where it trumpeted and circled before lying down. The onlookers took this as marking an auspicious place to build the temple. The view of the city of Chiang Mai area is excellent from this point.

Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. King Mengrai lived here while overseeing the construction of the city. This temple houses two very important and venerated Buddha figures – Phra Sila (a marble Buddha) and Phra Satang Man (a crystal Buddha).

wat-phra-singh.jpgWat Phra Singh houses the Phra Singh Buddha, a highly venerated figure, transferred here many years ago from Chiang Rai.

Wat Chedi Luang was founded in 1401 and dominated by the large Lanna style chedi (a large hemispherical mound) which dates from the same time, but took many years to finish. An earthquake damaged the chedi in the 16th century and now only two-thirds of it remains.

Wiang Kum Kam is the site of an old city situated on the southern outskirts of Chiang Mai.  The site has a large number of ruined temples.

Wat Suan Dok, (“the field of flowers temple”) What is unique about this temple is the large ubosot (ordination hall), unusual not only for its size, but also that it is open on the sides. There are a large number of chedis housing the ashes of the rulers of Chiang Mai. The temple is also the site of Mahachulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya Buddhist University.

Chiang Mai is full of backpackers and has a really laid back atmosphere; everyone here is down to earth and very friendly.  While walking in the city, I met a man from California who came to CM for a visit 13 years ago and just never left (!!) and a man visiting CM with his family who went to the UofM and now lives in France.  Small world.

The food, accommodations, and shopping are all top quality and inexpensive, and the nights are relatively cool, a welcome relief from the heat of the last few weeks.  My hotel was a few blocks away from the “Night Market”, where all the local vendors have the opportunity to display their wares.  Fun!

I boarded the train bound for Bangkok Thursday morning and arrived Thursday evening, with a few hours to spare before my flight to Shanghai.


“大家好” means ‘Hello everyone’

July 6th, 2007

I arrived in Shanghai, China at 7:00 am Friday. The most remarkable thing is the smog – I had read the news reports but I have never seen anything like it. It is very humid and hot, almost suffocating when combined with the pollution. I checked in to my hotel room, but only stayed in Shanghai for a few hours, opting to travel to Hangzhou with a team of teachers and begin orientation this evening.


Hangzhou, China

July 7th, 2007

Greetings from Hangzhou, China!

Hangzhou is located in southeast China, approximately 180 kms (3 hours) from Shanghai.  Hangzhou is one of the most important tourist cities in China, known for its natural beauty, history, and culture.  We spent most of the afternoon at West Lake, the most beautiful lake in China (really, it is!!).  Please google West Lake Hangzhou China  for a glimpse.

The weather in Hangzhou is “subtropical monsoon” (aka, ‘really freaking uncomfortable’).  It is not unusual for those not acclimated to sweat through two or three complete sets of clothing a day.  It is really manky, but I guess you just get used to it ….

I will be teaching English to middle school kids attending the English language camp at Jhejiang University in Hangzhou. There are about 10 “foreign teachers” (as we are called) at this campus and about a dozen more from my group in camps outside the city.  I will spend one week at the university and then transfer to another camp next week for the remainder of my contract.

We had a brief orientation last night, but I do not know many details of the weeks ahead.  I am sure it will all come together once the kids arrive (tomorrow).


No English

July 8th, 2007

The food here is kinda crazy. When we arrived to the University on Friday, we were escorted to the student cafeteria for our first meal.  You basically get in a line and point to a steam tray containing what looks like it might be good and the server puts a big glob of it on a tray with a mound of white rice.  The first evening I sampled 5 things (please do not ask me what they were) and only one was completely unacceptable, so I guess that is pretty good.  Last night a group of us were “dining out” and ordered a soup with chicken and vegetables, which was quite enjoyable – until the chicken feet surfaced in the tureen.  I think I will stick to rice and vegetables from now on …

I do wish I had practiced a bit more with the chopsticks.  But, more important than the lack of silverware is the lack of English – no one speaks English – no one.  No English.  I really wish I knew how to speak Chinese, as the beginner Mandarin lessons and traveler phrase books are just not that helpful.  Thank goodness one of the rules at the English Camp is “English Only” classrooms.

I will begin teaching tomorrow (Monday) morning.  My class is thirty-one 11-to-13-year-olds who appear to be at a “high-beginner” level of English.  They came to the university via bus this morning and will be staying in dorm rooms for 4 weeks, and they are a happy, excited bunch.  I spent a few hours talking and singing with them this morning, and we had a welcome ceremony for all students this afternoon.  It will be great fun!!



July 9th, 2007

Thanks for visiting my blog and for all the great comments!  I’ll take a few minutes to answer questions.

Do I miss milk and cheese?  Yes, definitely.  There is milk (whole milk, goat milk, oat (oat, no g) milk, soy milk, and the aforementioned water buffalo milk) and there is cheese (yak (yucky) cheese, goat cheese, deep fried cheese balls), and other dairy products but there doesn’t seem to be any such thing as skim or 2% – picky, picky, picky … Actually, I have found quite a lot of milk and other dairy products here (in China) the past couple days.

Did I have a warm chocolate chip cookie with my milk?  Um, the answer to that would be no.  I think that is an American thing.

Is there anything I will not eat?  If I can peel it or watch it being freshly cooked, I will eat it.  I generally will not eat things that have been cooking all day or things that are moving … but I am likely to try almost anything, even if I have to spit it out (durian, yak butter, fried crickets ).  There are so many things here that I am not able to identify, so I have to be a bit brave – but I draw the line at chicken feet and bull penis.

Am I traveling alone or with others?  I have been traveling solo since I left Kathmandu on June 28.  I arrived in Shanghai July 6 and have joined up with a group of teachers for the month of July. There are definitely advantages to traveling by myself – I can go where I want, when I want, and I have to motivate myself to explore and socialize.  Certainly, there are lonely moments, but I have not had any scary times, and I think I am probably more alert and more receptive on my own. But, I definitely am excited to be back with a group – especially in China, where so few people speak English.

Have I logged the number of miles traveled?  No, unfortunately … I would guess that I walk at least 5 miles on an average day in addition to all the public transport.  Plus air miles.  I have no idea what it all adds up to – lots!! 🙂  Some mornings I wake up and don’t know where I am, much less what day it is or the time.  All good.

Have I been sick?  Yup, you bet.  The reality is that everyone gets sick for at least a few days while traveling here – blame it on the water, the food, the altitude, the heat, the bugs – trust me, everyone gets sick and nobody is shy about swapping a good ol’ diarrhea story in the land of squat toilets (no tp).  Enough said.

Thanks again for all the great messages!  I should have a bit more time to write now that I am staying in one spot for more than a couple days.   I’m having a great time and I look forward to sharing more details of my fabulous adventure.  Cheers!  N


One week + 10 pounds later …

July 14th, 2007

After one week in China, I am getting used to the slurping, the spitting, the singing, the sweating, and being stared at … and I have actually come to enjoy being here quite a lot.

Slurpalicious.  Slurping is considered good manners – the more you slurp, the better you demonstrate the your appreciation for what you are eating.

Is that necessary?  In mainland China public spitting is very common. Hearing the sound of somebody clearing their throat from way deep down and then horking out the product is common.

Singing may be a national hobby. I have noticed that some Chinese men just LOVE singing out loud. We’ll be walking on the street, and some random guy will spontaneously start singing out loud for one or two phrases. It’s a bit odd, but not unpleasant.

The sweaty foreigners … The temperatures have been a bit out of control with a recent high of 104 degrees!!  The odd thing is that the Chinese people don’t seem to sweat nearly as much as the foreigners, and even wear long sleeves and long pants without any visible discomfort.

Take a picture – it lasts longer In China, our biggest problem is probably the fact that people stare at us. And not just looking, it’s staring, doing a 180, and looking up and down and up and down. It does not help when you stare at them back either. We are just going to do our best to ignore it and get used to it.

Adventures in eating   The food has lost most of its mystery.  My diet consists primarily of rice and noodles and the variety of soggy vegetables I can occasionally identify.  Last night a whole group of us finally broke down, piled into taxis, and went out for pizza and beer – heaven.

I have really enjoyed my teaching assignment in Hangzhou.  The kids are wonderful (well, I have a few naughty ones) and they are so damn cute!  Yesterday, Friday the 13th, we had a “Halloween” event (yes, Halloween – in July – don’t ask ….)  and the kids have been very busy this week making masks.

Today is our final day in Hangzhou. During our free time we have been doing the touristy things, wandering around West Lake and sipping their famous Long-Jin (Dragon Well) tea.

West Lake  Fishes, West Lake, Hangzhou

Eight of us are transferring for a two-week teaching assignment in Lin Hai, a much smaller city about 3 hours from Hangzhou.

We begin teaching at the school tomorrow (Sunday) and complete the camp on July 29.  It will be a very busy two weeks, as we teach from 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. and have meetings and activities every evening from 7 -9, so don’t be alarmed if I there are not any new posts for a few days.

Thanks for keeping in touch!  Nancy


Lin Hai

July 16th, 2007

Lin Hai is situated in the middle of the coastline in Zhejiang Province.  It’s a small city (about 500,000 people).  It has the monsoon climate of subtropical zone – the temperatures are a bit more tolerable than Hangzhou, but it rains a bit more often. The tourist attractions in Lin Hai are the Great Wall of the South and East Lake.

Great Wall Lin Hai  Great Wall, Lin Hai

We arrived at the Summer English Language Camp in Lin Hai on Saturday afternoon. The students arrived at camp on Sunday morning and we spent the day with registration, orientation, and the opening ceremonies.

I have 41 students (!!), age 14, at Level 2 (high beginner).  We have class from 8 am – 5 pm in non-air conditioned classrooms, so you can imagine we all have some long days.  This week we are having the Olympics (my classroom is Finland) so we are busy making flags and making up a sport to host.

Life at the Lin Hai summer camp is … uh … interesting.  We sleep on bamboo mats, eat at the cafeteria with the students, and (if we want hot water) shower in the public area. The campus gates are locked by the guards at 11 pm and all lights are out by midnight, which puts quite a damper on any late night social activities.  So sad.

I really don’t have anything fabulous to report – we are just teaching and going to meetings all day, every day.  I’m looking forward continuing my solo travels at the end of the month, but until then – it’s the same old, same old.

All is well!  N


I am so proud of my students

July 23rd, 2007

Last night we had an English Speech contest for the entire camp.  Competing against 18 other teams, my students won the top honors!  I really can’t take any credit – while I gave each team an idea, the kids wrote a skit on their own, with a full cast of characters, lots of action, and (most importantly) in perfect English dialogue.  Excellent!

They didn’t do so well in the camp Olympics.  We represented Finland in the games, but Germany walked away with most of the medals.  Oh, well – they tried and they all had a good time.

We only have a few more days left of camp and I think the kids and the teachers are all ready to for it to end.  We are all busy planning our itineraries for the post-camp free time.

We have new roommates.  One of the teachers received 2 chinchilla (?!  … I don’t think so, but it is some sort of rodent …)  babies from her students – and guess where they ended up … in OUR dorm room!
They are adorable, but … we will likely set them free in the wilderness sometime later this week.

The teachers and staff have a meeting tonight to begin planning our ‘Christmas’ party – yes, Christmas in July.  Don’t ask ….

All is well here.  Keep in touch!


A day at the seashore

July 23rd, 2007

Today the kids are on a trip to the seashore and most of the foreign teachers have opted to take a day off.  It is too hot here to do much of anything mid-day (currently 107 F / 42 C  and sunny) so I am seeking relief in a coffee house, finishing my lessons plans for the week, planning my itinerary for the weeks following camp, and consuming massive quantities of java.

Earlier today I decided to walk around the city.  And (of course) got dreadfully lost.  I knew I had wandered into an area where the “whities” rarely roam when I got the fully-extended-arm point (as opposed to the stare and finger point) and children were running away from me, screaming in terror.  I managed to get back to the center of town and familiar territory after some further directional trial and error, none the worse off than when I began.

Oh, while I think of it, I should describe the reaction to the presence of the foreign teachers.  There are 12 of us (11 Americans) and 9 of us are white.  When we travel as a group, we stop traffic and cause traffic accidents – we generally try to avoid that.  If we walk in pairs or small groups, the reaction from adults is the stare (as previously described), the single-finger point and an occasional wave “hello”.  Children either wave and laugh, or hide their faces and cry.  One extreme or the other.   However, if I am walking alone, children are more likely to come up to me and touch my skin or pull my hair.  We do have the occasional “stalker” as well – usually a young person who will hover near just to listen to us talk. Totally harmless  – you just get use to it.

Later in the day –

The kids have returned – it seems the day trip to the “seashore” was more of a day trip to the mud flats.  Most of the boys are covered, head to toe, in dried mud and sand.  Oh, and several children were throwing up incessantly (motion sickness) during the 2-hour bus trip.  Gee, I am really sorry I missed it ….


Spaghetti with chopsticks?

July 25th, 2007

It has been a while since I talked about food, but the lineup presented in the dining hall today has prompted a trip back down memory lane to the American school cafeteria.

We (the teachers) eat all our meals with our students as a “family”. Breakfast is always rice porridge, hard-boiled eggs, and a variety of sweet breads. Lunch and dinner are a bit less predictable – we always have rice and always have soup, but in the last few weeks we have had eel, crayfish (or crawfish), prawn and shrimp (yes, there is a difference), whole fish (straight from the lake to the pan, head/tail/eyes still intact), breaded pig ears, seaweed, tofu, and any vegetable that can be boiled or cooked beyond identification. The cooking staff has “Americanized” the menu to include chicken nuggets (ala McDonalds), chicken legs in a sauce similar to barbeque, and spaghetti* with a minced meat sauce.

*The spaghetti only appeared once, as the cooks did not like cooking the pasta noodles and trying to eat it with chopsticks … well, it is just not a pretty sight.

I think I have tried everything at least once.  What did you expect? 


Christmas AND Halloween – all in one day

July 26th, 2007

Does it get any better than that?  WOW!

We spent the morning making Halloween masks.  The first part of the afternoon was Christmas in the auditorium, complete with a tree, merry carols, and snow (shredded toilet paper confetti).  Then we ran back to our classrooms to put on our masks and parade through the campus.  Finally, the younger kids went trick-or-treating while the older kids went to a dance, which was probably the highlight of the day.

We were amazed to discover that the school has a dance hall, with strobe lights and a disco ball and a dj booth.  We were able to confirm our suspicions that the area is not often used.  Anyway, the kids went absolutely NUTS – excellent fun!



July 27th, 2007

I wish I could be there to celebrate your 49th birthday!  Oh, well – we’ll have a BIG party next year!

Love you more – N


It’s Saturday night – do you know where your kids are?

July 28th, 2007

My “kids” are running around like chickens with their heads cut off – tomorrow is the last day of camp and they are living it up.  We’ve been “toilet-papered” and “shaving-creamed” by the naughty ones and the girls have been showering us with gifts and love notes.

I would really enjoy a cold adult beverage right now …  

later in the evening –

Drinking establishments are not advertised here, but through (super secret) word-of-mouth we sucessfully located a bar owned by a French dude and his wife Nancy, appropriately named Champs-Élysées.  Needless to say, we were all over-served, which lead to a lively explanation with the security guard at the campus as to why we we were returning several hours past the 11:30 curfew.  Thankfully, there was no climbing over the spired fence involved this time!  (It wasn’t me!  I never jumped the fence!  That dubious distinction belongs to those who shall remain nameless …. Tiff, Dan, Matt ….)   Anyway, we had a so much fun on our last night in LinHai – thanks all!!


The last day of camp

July 29th, 2007

Today was our last day of English Language Camp in LinHai.  We have spent the past few days preparing the students for closing ceremonies.  There was a television crew and newspaper reps, so it was quite a bit deal.

campers.jpg   Every class had to perform a skit or sing a song – my students sang “I’d like to teach the world to sing” (remember the Coke commercial?). Two of the four speakers were from my “family” (class)  and ten of them were given Certificates of Excellence.  I am just so pleased.

It was a very emotional day.  As we bid final farewells, all my girls were crying and throwing their arms around me – I even got a kiss on the neck from one of my boys, which is an outrageous display of affection here.  Another boy gave me directions to his home so I could come meet his parents! It was all very sweet and sad.  But it was REALLY hard to say goodbye to all my incredible fellow teachers and new friends – working, eating, sweating, griping, sleeping, playing and living with each other 24/7 for 15 days has been remarkable.

Tiff   Tiff – you are the best roommate ever!  I love you and I cannot wait to see you in New York. I’ll bring the Peonies and the fake PBR.  If all else fails, I am sure we can find it in Chinatown …

Katie“Even prisoners have rights!”  GO GIRL!! I look forward to reading your stuff when you get published.  Matt – Yes, you do look like a young BM (that’s a compliment).  No, I am not wearing any.  Oh, and do you remember what is in a “New James Bond”?  Dan – I admire your talents and wish you all the best.  Take care of your handsome self. And the turtle.  Sam – You are a treasure!  I expect to read about your great successes in all the biz journals.  Sarah – I wish I had half your energy and spirit.  Thanks for brightening our days.  Tequilla!! Chris – You have my sympathy.  Gary – The silk boxers and the see-through tank tops have really got to go.  Tim – I love the Belgian attitude and the pooping stories.  I miss you! Big hugs!  Melisa – Travel the world, girl!  You WILL love it!  Jim – I know you know you’re attractive … what more is there to say?  Cynthia – Thanks for keeping us in line.  I will miss you!!  Laytoya  Kenesha  LaKeitha – if you could just shut the hell up for a few minutes, that would be great …  Wander – Put on your robe and scramble up some eggs.  I promise you will feel better tomorrow.  Karen – Do the Hokey-Pokey and you turn yourself around – that is what it is all about!   Let’s not say goodbye – let’s say “be seeing you … “All of us are heading in different directions – some are returned to the States, most are travelling for at least a few days.  I was the first to depart on the 3:55 bus for a 6-hour journey to Shanghai.  The last leg of the adventure has officially commenced!  The next couple weeks will be a little crazy as I zigzag my way through China – so much to see, so little time.  I will try to post as often as I am able (or as often as I can find internet access).Thanks for tagging along with me! N



July 30th, 2007

This is the view of  the Bund from the rooftop of the hostel where I stayed in Shanghai – amazing !!


I arrived in Shanghai around 10pm and was fortunate to claim the last private room at the Captain Hostel.  There were lots of backpackers, many who chose CH for the rooftop bar (and the spectacular view) and convenient location a half-block from the Bund.   I met up with a couple Brits on holiday and spent the time with a lovely woman who started teaching as a volunteer teacher in Thailand a couple years ago and now teaches English in Japan.

(Steph, hope you are having a fantastic holiday in China! I look forward to seeing you in Tokyo!  Please continue to keep in touch!)



July 31st, 2007

 map.jpg  I arrived in Qingdao late last night following a lengthy delay and a short flight from Shanghai.  I’ve settled in to a lovely hotel room, with a FULL size bed, a Western crapper, and hot water.  I was excited to explore the city (in the daylight) and I have not been disappointed – it’s really lovely.

roofs.jpg  Qingdao is a coastal city with a population of about 8 million on the southern tip of Shandong Peninsula. It is considered an ideal tourist destination and is a popular holiday area in China.

st.jpg  The uniqueness of Qingdao consists in its architecture.  For those who are not familiar with its history, Qingdao became a German concession in 1897 and reverted to Chinese rule in 1922. The Germans were not only occupants, but there are a lot of German or European style building scattered in the city and the alleys reminded me of southern European streets. In 2008, Qingdao will host the Sailing Regattas of the Olympic Games, so many of the old buildings are experiencing a makeover. One building from the German period in Qingdao worth a mention is the Tsingtao beer factory that was opened by Germans in 1903. Today “Tsingtao” has become China’s most famous beer brand. One special feature of the city are its numerous bars that also offer beer “to go” – the draft beer it is directly filled into a plastic bag … similar to the single beers sold at Wisconsin truck stops, right Bill?

The weather here is very pleasant (currently 80 F / 27 C and slightly overcast) and the wind from the sea provides fresh air.


Although I have not seen a lot of fishing boats, there are a lot of seafood restaurants lining the Meishijie (translation “beautiful-food-street”).  I suspect it is worth another visit before I leave.

I leave for Beijing tomorrow – was planning to take the train (overnight 9 hours) but have decided to fly in the interest of saving time.  There is just so much to see and so little time …


Welcome to Beijing …

August 1st, 2007

” … your Chinese is quite good!”

I laughed out loud when the young man obviously eager to carry on a conversation in English suggested that my command of the Chinese language is anything more than a matter of survival phrases, including ni hao (hello), zai jian (goodbye), xie xie (thanks), wo bu dong (I do not understand), and ce suo zai nar? (where is the toilet?).

Yes, pretty darn impressive, I know … 

My recommendation for anyone planning a trip to China is to try learning a few key greetings and phrases. My experience had been that the non-english speakers are perfectly content to continue chattering away in Chinese while I gesture wildly and chatter in English.   And, happily, most transactions close with both parties satisfied with the exchange.  The only exception may be when it comes to ordering food.  

Restaurants are pretty manageable, especially if you keep a running list of foods (in Chinese) that you like and any dishes that you definitely do not want to eat – the servers are very accomodating.  The street markets, on the other hand, can be pretty thrilling – and I look forward to the challenge in Beijing!

I have been advised that tarantulas, cockroaches, maggots, seahorses and bird embryos on sticks are all fair game on the street. Admittedly, you could assume it’s difficult to eat said menu by mistake, but never you never know. Sea cucumbers are reportedly quite yummy, but the spider-like bodies are a little scary-looking and just not my style. The more reputable BBQ-insect stalls will offer you a choice between 5 small brown scorpions or 1 large black scorpion on a stick!  I will have to see it to believe it  …  and will, of course, write about it when I do.  


The PSB and me

August 2nd, 2007

I set Bob (my clock) to wake me up bright and early so I could accomplish my one necessary task for the day – a visa extension.  Critical at this point, since my current visa expires Saturday.  (!!)  I hop on the #10 bus to the Municipal office, present my documents, only to be told that I need to go to the Public Service Bureau, Exit & Entry Management Center (quite a mouthful)  for processing.  No worries – Tiananmen Square appears on the map to be within a reasonable walking distance, so I decide to just swing by and take a little look-see before I go to the PSB.

On the way, I am struck again by the size of the city – Beijing is enormous. E-NORMOUS. And with a population of over 15 million, there are people, people, people everywhere.   Anyway, I walk and walk and walk but I still have not reached Tiananmen Square.  Keep this in mind – T Square is the largest public square in the world and can hold about 300,000 people … and I can’t find it.  How is that even possible?  Just when I am about to give up, there it is!

It appears the construction and renovation projects have not deterred anyone from visiting Tiananmen Square – there must have be thousands of people there and yet it looked spacious and empty.  The square is surrounded by a variety of significant edifices: Chinese Revolution History Museum, Mao Mausoleum, Great Hall of the People, the elegant and beautiful Tiananmen (Heavenly Peace Gate), and Qianmen (Front Gate). It becomes clear that I will not have time to dedicate to seeing everything in a short visit and I decide to return another day.

So, I take a short bus ride to my hotel and secure directions to the PSB (in Chinese) from the front desk personnel and hail a taxi.  After 40 minutes of driving around the city, the driver is getting frustrated (the "I am ready to just dump you off anywhere" kind of frustrated) because he cannot locate the address I have given him. Finally, I elect to get out and walk 17 blocks to the Public Service Building. At this point, I am still in remarkably good spirits – I have reached my destination and will soon have the rest of my day free for fun activities. Crazy optimism. I did not leave the PSB they were closing the doors at 5 pm, after standing in line for over 2 hours. The bad news is that I am not able to expedite the processing, given the sheer volume of applications the Bureau receives in a day.  It is a bit unnerving to not have my passport and a valid visa in my pocket, but …   the good news is that I will be in Beijing for another week and can spend time exploring with friends.

All said, it has been a good day!


“Disney is too far, so please come to Shijingshan.”

August 3rd, 2007

Who can resist an invitation like that? Katie (a fellow teacher and buddy from camp) spent a few hours at the Beijing version of Disney, the Shijingshan Amusement Park.

 fakedisneyladn.jpg      With its slogan “Disneyland is too far,” Beijing’s Shijingshan Amusement Park features a replica of Cinderella’s Castle, with staff dressed like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and other Disney characters.  None of this is authorized by Disney – but that has not stopped the state-owned park from creating its own counterfeit version of the Magic Kingdom in a brazen example of the sort of open and widespread copyright piracy that has Washington fuming.

In my opinion, the park in Beijing is just a silly, sub-standard reproduction of a Disney property.  Has anyone noticed the remarkable similarities between

 the   image2.jpg Cinderella Palace and the images.jpg Neuschwanstein Castle?

Of course!! Come on …  Perhaps what goes around, comes around?  In any case, if I were a Disney exec, I would not consider the Shijingshan Amusement Park much of a threat.  We had a good time, but Disney it ain’t.

Katie and I are planning to do the Great Wall tomorrow – we are still debating if it would be best to join a full day tour or just venture out on our own. In any case, we plan to leave the city at some ridiculous hour to beat the crowds and make the most of the day. Katie is a true morning person, so I had to warn her that I do not acknowledge the existence of single-digit morning hours – but we have both already packed our ipods and snacks, so we will be just fine.


I have been to the Great Wall and it is truly amazing!

August 4th, 2007

Is it fog or smog?


I am so tired and sore – I climbed 4 towers of the Great Wall today. (Katie climbed 8!  But she’s a flipping maniac …).


The further you walk, the better it gets, but the climbing is tough!  The steps are tall and extremely uneven and very steep in places.  The worst part for  me was coming  down, complicated by my fear of heights (!!)  and there are a few places that do not have handrails –  but it is worth it to get as far as you can, surrounded by the incredible scenery –  and the Wall stretches on forever ….


The Chinese tourists were out in full force on the Wall – it was so crowded! People pushing and shoving, running and jumping, stopping to take pictures, sitting down simply because they cannot take one more step …  You really cannot expect to have your private space when visiting any of the tourist sights, and especially the Badaling section of the Great Wall!

On the way to the Great Wall we stopped at the Ming Tombs (Shisanling).  The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to Feng Shui principles. According to these, bad spirits and evil winds descending from the North must be deflected;  the Ming tombs lie in a broad valley to the south of Tianshou (Longevity of Heaven) Mountain, “defended” on each side by the Dragon and Tiger hills. Thirteen out of the 16 Ming emperors are buried here, but only three have been excavated. The main features of Ming Tombs are the Stong Bridge, Soul Tower, Baocheng, and the Underground Place.  The entire tomb site is surrounded by a wall, and a 5 mile road named the “Spirit Way” leads into the complex. The front gate of the complex is a large, three-arched gateway, painted red, and called the “Great Red Gate”.  

images1.jpg We also cruised past the building site of the 2008 Olympics – construction workers were busy building the swimming complex and putting the finishing touches on the “birds nest” . The Beijing National Stadium, also known as the bird’s nest, will be the main track and field staium for the 2008 Summer Olympics and will be host to the Opening and Closing ceremonies. Img214099506_sss.jpg Quite something.  Not exactly Lambeau Field (hallowed ground alert!), but quite something. The other complexes in the area are HUGE and it is fascinating to watch the workers at the sites. Finally, we are back to our hotels ~ it’s been a fun and exhausting (have I ever been this tired?) day.  Forgive me if this submission rambles on a bit ….  I’m tired and I wanna go to bed ….


An excellent lazy day

August 5th, 2007

Today was my lazy day – slept in until noon, took a long (and hot) shower, played around on the computer, read a bit, and finally ventured out into the city around 3. 

For the first time in weeks, I have an entire wardrobe of machine-washed, properly-pressed, fresh-smelling clothing.  The housekeeping department at my hotel took my request quite literally, and washed my baseball cap, sweaty headbands and bandanas, even my backpack!  Wonderful!

I had a serious hankering for some comforts of home and found some relief at a McDonalds in a nearby mall and a HUGE coffee at Starbucks.  I ran into a fellow from Chicago whom I met in Shanghai at the Captain and he offered some interesting tips on things to see (and traps to avoid) in Beijing.  Good stuff.

As my excellent lazy day draws to an end, I wish everyone peace and good health. Catch ya on the flip side …….  N


Renovations and the return to T Square

August 6th, 2007

The first order of business today was a visit to a “blind man” massage centre.  Massage is one of the few occupations available for the blind in China and the lack of sight definitely does not impede the quality of the service.  I enjoyed a 100-minute foot, face, and (fully-clothed) body massage for the equivalent of US$13. Heavenly!

Today is the day that I will begin a determined sightseeing tour of the city.   As I commented before, the city of Beijing is massive; the map cannot convey the vast distances between the different tourist sites.  What looks like a walk around the block is actually a 2 mile hike. The buildings are immense but so are the streets and highways.  Fortunately, it is pretty easy to get around – taxis are cheap, the subway system is somewhat limited but efficient, and there are lots of buses (if you can figure out the route maps).

tiananmen01.jpg    Tiananmen Square was a good place to start.  The largest city central square in the world, Tiananmen Square is not only a symbol of Beijing but also a symbol of China. This enormous courtyard has been the site of many historic events. The square is surrounded by the Chinese Revolution History Museum, Mao Mausoleum, Great Hall of the People, the Heavenly Peace Gate, and Qianmen (Front Gate), but my destination of choice was the Forbidden City.

forbidden-city-throne-75-1.jpg    Adjacent to T Square, the Forbidden City is the world’s largest and best-preserved imperial palace complex. Surrounded by a moat that is 20 ft deep and a 30 ft high wall are 9,999 rooms – just one room short of the number that ancient Chinese believed represented divine perfection.  The Forbidden City is spacious world of great luxury that had a culture of its own. For five centuries, this palace functioned as the administrative center of the country as well as being the pleasure home of the emperors and empresses who were served by thousands of people.  Incredible!

* side note – if you want a glimpse of the Forbidden City, rent “Curse of the Golden Flower”  Absolutely spectacular!!

images2.jpg   Next, I went to Beihai Park, which features pavilions, beautiful walkways, the 90-ft-long Nine Dragon Screen (built to scare off evil spirits), a jar that is the last remnant of the Khan’s court that had been there, the Five Dragon Pavilion dating from the mid 1600s, and a large lake with an island in the middle.  Absolutely beautiful – so peaceful – a nice break from the huge crowds.

summer-palace-9-1.jpg  Another park that is a definite ‘must see’ is the Summer Palace, a famous classic imperial garden. The Summer Palace holds a special place in the history of Chinese gardens.

summer-palace-11-1.jpg     summer-palace-stone-boat-14-1.jpg

Beijing also has many beautiful temples that at one time served as the focus for religious life. Temple of Heaven is the largest group of structures in the country dedicated to rituals that pay homage to heaven. This temple was built specifically for the worship of heaven and prayers for good harvests during the time of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. There are two amazing acoustical spots here. On the top of the tri-leveled round altar there is a spot where your words reverberate around you. You can easily imagine the power that temporal rulers felt as their prayers for abundance echoed as if they issued down from the heavens. The other is at the Echo Wall that partially encloses a circular courtyard that is 65 meters (213 feet) in diameter. Words whispered at one end travel along the wall and can be heard clearly by someone listening at the other end!

After paying full admission for these sights I was surprised and disappointed to find that the major buildings and most important things to see are often totally under wraps for renovation. The Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven, three of Beijing’s top tourist draws, have all undergone recent renovations.

My next intended stop was the Beijing zoo.   However, a Western tourist at the bus stop on his way back from the zoo told me that the zoo is a “total waste of time and money”, dirty and very disappointing.  Enough said!

When I returned to my hotel, full of ambition to report,  I was informed that the server was down temporarily.  It is amazing how dependent you get on an internet connection – I had been chomping at the bit to report on my day of sightseeing!  After a tromp around the neighborhood and dinner at a little place down the way, I returned to find service restored and all is well.

Tomorrow will be another day of exploring, with plans to meet up with Tiff and friends at the Buddha Bar.  I am certain I will have more stories to tell in the next posting!

Until then – N


Photo sensitivity

August 7th, 2007

“May I take a photo, please?”  Most tourists (myself included) feel almost compelled to put a camera between themselves and what is remarkable that they see.  I have learned to be quite careful when taking photographs in China, as they may be quite particular about what you can and cannot take pictures of.  I did have a slight brush with the law when I was trying to take a picture of the ornate gateway entrance of Zhong Nan Hai, the political headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party, which happens to be within walking distance from Tiananmen Square.  It is best not to take a photo of anything related to the sensitive political and military machineries of China!

Once in a while I encounter a person who vehemently objects to having their picture taken – someone told me that they fear that I am “stealing their soul”.   Some people simply dislike having their photos taken. Yesterday I noticed a a different approach – the guy who would walk slowly past groups of foreigners and then (not-so) casually sling his arm over his shoulder to take a picture with his cell phone.  Odd.  It seems like it would be a lot easier to just ask – every once in a while, someone asks me to pose with their group for a picture – no big deal.

Today I ventured off to visit the hutongs.  My own definition of a hutong is a small street or a lane between two courtyards – there are thousands of hutongs in Beijing City, some which have been selected as protected areas in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history.  I was very careful not to take photographs in many of the hutong areas, even though many people do – it just seems like an such intrusion of  privacy.  Anyway, it is amazing just passing through a hutong and watching the daily life going on.

南希  (Nancy)


Toilet tales (or “Weird Crap”)

August 8th, 2007

If you spend any appreciable amount of time in Asia outside of your hotel room you will at some point probably find yourself faced with the intimidating task of using a squat toilet.

Quite a few foreign visitors have a dread of squat toilets, and it can be a bit of a shocker for first-time visitors.  They just take a little getting used to. For the most part, everything you have ever heard is true. Facilities in China can be absolutely horrid. The good news is that public facilities are everywhere – just look for a WC sign and an arrow, and follow your nose. Most of these facilities have little or no privacy. The bad news is that almost all public facilities are small, unventilated spaces shared by many and must be avoided at all costs. The worst are the trenches that pass as toilets with no walls or doors,

china.jpg  is this really a toilet?

You may find a long cement block with a trench down the center that may or may not have partitions every couple of feet or you may find individual holes in the cement, which again, may or may not offer any privacy. And yes, it can be a little intimidating to walk into a public toilet and see twenty people squatting over holes staring at the foreigner that just walked in, but at least the bathrooms are there.  If you are shy about your no. 2s (and everyone elses), China is probably not the place for you.

Bus stations will of course have bathrooms and they tend to be disgusting. Once you have experienced the inside of a restroom in a public bus station in China, you will probably become thankful that squat toilets are often the norm.Train stations are usually no better. Even airports can be a little stinky. But for all the regular buses, forget it, no toilets. Trains have toilets at one end, usually two of them, which basically consist of a hole in the floor.  Another reason why I fly …

images3.jpg  toilet on a train

In most villages, nobody has a bathroom and there is a public toilet facility which anyone can use. I use the word  “toilet” loosely as it is usually nothing more than a few holes in the ground behind mud brick walls. But again, the holes are there.  Especially in rural areas, it’s common that toilets flush manually, with a few scoops of water from a larger cistern. If you encounter the latter, you should see a bucket of water and a scoop nearby.

thailand.jpg   the manual toilet (note the bucket)

Beijing is being knocked down, rebuilt, renovated and generally “spruced up” at an alarming rate. It is being modified, Westernised and re-shaped. And so, thankfully, are its toilets.  Although mostly still squats, they are clean, have sanitary bins, toilet paper and they flush!!  The best toilets I encountered were in the Singapore airport – the toilets wash your butt with warm water and then dry it with puffs of warm air.  Crazy!  Most hotels in Asia have western-style toilets, though do not count on a butt sprayer.

So, you may ask, why is she spending so much time talking about toilets?  Well, that is what we talk about. No, we do not swap sight-seeing stories – we talk about the fellow teacher who could not poop for four weeks and finally went to the ER and was transferred to Shanghai for surgery.  He elected to go home to the U.S. for medical attention, so the mystery remains – why couldn’t he poop?  No amount of Ex-Lax (or the Chinese equivalent) or herbal remedies would release the dam.  Was it an overwhelming fear of the squat toilet?  Compare that to the guy who could not stop going … well, we do not need to go into details with that one …

As I have mentioned before, everyone has a great poop story – it is generally all or nothing, and provides great entertainment, particularly after you have spent several weeks traveling in Asia and there is a large group of foreigners to chat with at the bar.  Sometimes, if you are not able to laugh, you may cry …  it is all weird crap.


bye-bye Beijing

August 8th, 2007

This is my last night in Beijing.  It has been fun, but 8 days is plenty …

Places to see in and around Beijing

The Great Wall – So much has been written and said about the Great Wall, and one thing is certain: a visit to China would not be complete without seeing it.

Tiananmen Square – T-Square is the geo center of Beijing City. So huge and obvious that I didn’t realize that I was in the middle of it a few days ago. Chairman Mao’s mausoleum was under restoration while I was there.  The ceremony of raising the flag is quite something.

Forbidden City  – The Forbidden City (now referred to as Imperial Palace or the Palace Museum) is the largest and best-preserved example of ancient Chinese buildings and culture in China. I lost count of the number of halls and rooms but it is somewhere between 8,700 – 9,999 … Absolutely mind-blowing.

Summer Palace – The Summer Palace is a huge park which the Chinese royalty used to spend the summer months.  There is a huge marble “boat” that sits just inside the lake.  The gardens are incredible.

Beihai Park – Beihai Park has a history of more than 1000 years.  The park was built up through 5 dynasties and was a royal garden.  It covers an area of nearly 200 acres, half of it water.  Peaceful and beautiful! Enjoyed watching children playing.

Things to do

Talk to strangers – Solo travel provides forces you to interact with people.  Even if you do not know Chinese, most people are more than happy to chatter with you. Smile and be careful with the hand gestures. 🙂

Eat Peking Duck at the restaurant Quan Ju De.  I don’t eat the Peking Duck but my dinner companion confirmed that it is fantastic and suggested that I include it on the “must do” list.

Pamper yourself.  Go to a foot or body massage center – they are EVERYWHERE.  It is very relaxing and inexpensive and you remain fully clothed through the whole process.  Heavenly.

Go out at night. Every place I’ve been to in China is very safe to walk around in, with a very low crime rate, and it is safe to be out after 10 p.m.

Things not to do

Do not use Public Toilets.  Really, I am serious.  With the exception of facilities in fast food restaurants, public restrooms should be avoided at all costs.

Do not drink the water.  Tap water is not to be consumed.  Bottled water is cheap and available everywhere.

Do not take photos of government buildings.

Do not mess with traffic or the traffic cop – you will be run over by a car or the crossing guard will whop you with his flag.  Traffic in Beijing is a matter of survival of the fittest. The bigger your vehicle, the bigger your right of way – leaving pedestrians at the very end of the food chain. I am really surprised, that I havent seen anyone getting killed yet.

Do not postpone getting your visa renewed or extended.  If you overstay your visa, it will cost you money in fines.  If you process your paperwork at the last minute, it will cost you a day of free time.

Do not rent a bicycle, unless you have a serious death wish.  Bicycling is often recommended as an easy way for travelers to get around Beijing, with complete disregard for the millions of residents on bicycles who are already competing with millions of cars for road space.

Thanks for tagging along with me – see you in Shanghai!


the Shanghai tour

August 10th, 2007

I arrived Shanghai early Thursday evening. I was having a hard time planning what to do, as Shanghai is a huge city with lots of options.  I decided that best approach was a hop-on-hop-off city tour on Friday morning, probably the best way to cover a lot of territory in a relatively short period of time. And here is what I saw:

The Bund, also called Zhongshan Road, is a famous waterfront and has been regarded as the symbol of Shanghai for hundreds of years. The Bund houses 52 buildings of various architectural styles. A great way to visit the Bund on a nice day is to start at the Peace Hotel and walk south, ducking into buildings along the way. The Bund is really a beautiful and special place worth visiting.

People’s Square is the center of Shanghai, were two of the metro lines and several bus lines seem to converge.  It is also the theatre district.  People’s Square is surrounded by hotels and shopping complexes, which creates a city center that is part park, part concrete plaza.

Nanjing Lu (Nanking Road) was historically “the shopping area”, featuring Shanghai No. 1 Department Store and blocks of other stores and a pedestrian mall. However, the Nanjing Lu area has lost some of its significance for retail with huge malls everywhere in the city.

Jingan is known for the Jingan Temple, a local Buddhist landmark. Jingan is the “downtown” area of Shanghai, home to prime retail and office space. There are also at least three HUGE malls dedicated to high chic and high spending.

The best attraction of Old City is the Yu Garden and Yu Bazaar.  While kitschy, the Yu Garden area is a fun place to explore and wander through the lanes and alleys and find everything you might want from silk pajamas to chopsticks.

Xintiandi is a relatively new complex of high-end shops and restaurants, with a mix of retail, entertainment, and commercial office space. It reminded me of a planned village center so popular in the U.S. Not far from Xintiandi is Dong Tai Road, lined with stalls and shops selling all that is junk and treasure. You can find all kinds of items including Mao memorabilia, porcelain, old wooden rice buckets and brightly painted opera masks. It’s worth a wander around just to see.

The French Concession is one of the nicest parts of Shanghai because it feels like you are just in a local neighborhood. Trees line both sides of every street in the area. Old villas and lane houses have been renovated and turned into lovely shops and homes. It is fun to wander the winding streets and watch oldies chatting on the sidewalks and vendors market their wares. As you walk down Taikang Road there are street vendors selling pancakes and fruit, kids scampering about and women hanging up laundry. Fuxing Road is a great place to have a two to three hour stroll.

Pudong is across the Huangpu River from the Bund and features the sci-fi city skyline of towers and skyscapers. Here you will find the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Jin Mao Tower (which I think is still the tallest building), and the Grand Hyatt. There is an observation deck on the 88th floor of the Jin Mao Tower where you have incredible views of the city.

Overall, I was satisfied with the brief overview of the city and felt confident to strike out on my own on Saturday.  I rode the metro lines all over the city and returned to some of the places I had visited the day before.  I was lucky to return to my hotel just as the skies began to darken and the rain began to fall – in earnest.  The streets were soon flooded and traffic was a mess for a couple hours, but everything was back in order by nightfall.


Shanghai musings

August 11th, 2007

I am not a member of the fashion police, but …  what is the deal with wearing pajamas in public? In smaller cities in China, it is not unusual in the late afternoon or evening, to have folks wear their pajamas around their local neighborhood. However, I am surprised to see to adults, not children, wearing the whole outfit (top and bottom) out in major metropolitan public mid-day.

You are going to poke an eye out with that thing …  Dear citizens of Shanghai, may I make a suggestion for umbrella ettiquette – when you use your umbrella, please be aware of the umbrella-less all around you that do not deserve to get smacked, smushed, or whacked because you are blissfully unaware that the points of your umbrella are poking fellow pedestrians in the face.  Umbrellas are meant to be used for protection from the sun and the rain, not as weapons.

Beauty and the Bleach?  In China, skin whiteners are the best selling beauty product; in a store where I had trouble finding conditioner I found aisles devoted solely to skin whitening products.  I can only compare it to our (in the U.S.) desire to be tan, but a tan is a natural reaction to sun exposure and bleaching is just so … not natural.  I think the Asian skin color is really lovely and would not change it at all. 

Traffic …   I do not have any photographs of Shanghai traffic. It is difficult to use a camera while running for your life or when white-knuckling the door handle of the taxi cab you are riding in.  Apparently, traffic lights are only guidelines, not necessarily to be paid any attention to. The green light starts flashing before it turns red. The yellow light comes on a few seconds before the red light changes to green. This is to give the cars a running start at the pedestrians and bicycles still in the intersection …

Gee, do ya think this Birkin bag is a fake? Uh, I would have to say “yes” if you are paying US$10 (Birkin retail price $10,000). While shopping in Shanghai, you will encounter plenty of fake, pirated, and otherwise illegally copied goods. If you want the genuine article, you can definitely find it in one of the high-end retail establishments, but if you are shopping at the Fake Market – well, there is a good chance that the Birkin is a fake …


Sunday in Shanghai

August 12th, 2007

This is my last day in Shanghai – my last day in China (!!) – so I have been out and about, one last hurrah.

On the agenda – lunch!  Wow, I cannot believe that I have not talked about the food here yet!  Eating in Shanghai is a one-stop culinary tour – you can find anything you want to eat here.  There are a few Chinese styles that I have been able to identify – Shanghainese (seafood, pork dumplings);  Cantonese, (steaming and stir-frying, less spice); Dongbei, (rich and oily, primarily meat, vegetables, and eggplant); Hunanese, (chillis, spicy beans w/pork); Sichuan, (chillis and peppercorns, hot & sour soup); and Xinjang, (Central Asian, lamb, skewers, nan bread, and spicy salads).  Those are just the Chinese options I can think of – really, you can get ANY kind of food here.

So, you ask, where did I go? Well, I ended up at O’Malleys Irish Pub in the French Concession. And I arrived just in time to join the crowd on hand for the Rugby match (Scotland vs Ireland). Great fun!

But now it is time to write my final post from China. I cannot believe that I am going home tomorrow! It has been an EXCELLENT adventure and I am very pleased that I have been able to share some of my experiences on this blog. Thanks for all your comments and thanks for joining me on my big adventure.

Be seeing you … 南希 Nancy


overnight in Tokyo

August 13th, 2007

I am staying in Narita (Tokyo) overnight, courtesy of NWA.  My flight to Los Angeles was very overbooked, so I volunteered to take a direct flight from Tokyo to Minneapolis in Business Class tomorrow afternoon.  Not such a bad deal – sure beats the hell out of a coach flight and a 3-hour layover in LAX.

Anyway, I have had several hours hanging out in the airports to reflect on the past 9 weeks …

Countries visited:  6

Currencies exchanged:  9

Languages spoken (by me): 3     Spoken by everyone else:  a hundred?

Favorite place:  Kathmandu,Nepal  Chiang Mai,Thailand  Pokhara,Nepal  Too many favorite places to pick just one

Least favorite place:  Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Favorite food:  curry @UBC  pumpkin in school cafeteria  pork dumplings  Again, too many favorites

Least favorite food:  durian

Strangest night out:  the disco in Kathmandu

Most fun:  dancing with the bartenders at  Champs-Élysées  in LinHai.

Greatest inspiration:  the children of Nepal

Things I did not miss:  TV

Simple pleasures:  ice cubes

Biggest surprise:  No one speaks English in China  the smog  I really do like teaching                           How difficult it is to leave …

How many miles?  On foot, probably 600;  on bicycle, maybe 150;  air miles, over 25,000;  taxi, subway, bus – no idea (!!)

Photos – 500+

Blog entries – 44

cold showers – at least 27, probably more …

Regrets?   none … zero …



It is Tuesday, August 14 (I think) and I am home

August 14th, 2007

   DSCF0110.JPG the bag and the boots have returned



It just takes some time to re-adjust

August 21st, 2007

Not everyone faces the same challenges returning home from a trip because not everyone has had the same experiences …  Thank you to everyone who followed the blog as I rambled along.  While people will be interested in what I did, nobody will be quite as interested as  me – despite my  amazing  storytelling skills … 😉

You can view a photo album of my trip by clicking on the following link: .

Here’s a quick summary:


Kathmandu  It is difficult to describe Kathmandu – it is a crazy place.  You can see people bathing, collecting water, eating, cuddling children, talking and having a smoke with a friend, selling stuff, making stuff.   You always have a multitude of little interactions, be it smiles, looks, or joking comments every time you go out.  The people are so friendly.  Children run down the alleys and scream and run around and up and down the stairs.  As many people as possible are always squashed into all forms of transportation.  Everyone uses their horn on the roads all the time.  Cows walk down the road in the middle of traffic and dogs sleep oblivious to the noise around them.  There are no big supermarkets or department stores – there are hundreds of stalls, offering everything you could possibly need.  Everything in life is happening right in front of you – everything is out in the open and up close and it is all mish-mashed together.  It truly is a crazy place – and I miss it!

Dhulikhel  I spent two days in the village of Dhulikhel and had an opportunity to live with a family, work in the rice field, ride on the top of a bus, and see the Nepali countryside.  More that 20 Himilayan peaks can be seen from the many vantage points in Dhulikhel, a panorama of the Himalaya in all their glory – absolutely breathtaking!

Ganganagar  My teaching assignment was in Ganganagar, a small rural village, part of the Chitwan district in central Nepal.  The area is famous for its temple sitamai and Chitwan National Park adjoining the Rapti river.  While in Ganganagar, I lived with a loving host family, taught a few hours a day, and enjoyed plenty of free time to explore the jungle and the villages in the area.  Ganganagar is a very poor community but there is a great deal of optimism and hope.  I invite anyone with an interest in Nepal (or any other country) to visit the following site:  – it is amazing the contributions even one person can make.

Pokhara  When you visit Nepal, you must go to Pokhara.  A lakeside location and proximity to the mountains means Pokhara is an ideal place for recovering from (or gearing up for) a trek.  The center of attention is Pokhara is Phewa Lake, the second largest lake in the Kingdom.  Clearly the most stunning of Pokhara sights is the Annapurna Range.

Nagarkot is a magnificent place to visit early in the morning to watch the first rays of sun rising across the wide Himalayan range.  I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

I have so many wonderful memories from my two weeks in Nepal.  I always felt valued, respected, and welcome.  Nepal is definitely not for everyone – but once you have been there, you will never forget it.


Bangkok  Bangkok was my “home base” in Asia, so I was there off and on several times, exporing the city for a total of about 7 days.  So many visitors pass straight through Bangkok, convinced that it offers nothing but pollution and noise.  Take my advice – give it a couple days and you will fall in love with the place.

Chiang Mai  Chiang Mai is among my favorite places.  The pace is relaxed, the people are friendly, the scenery is incredible, the history is fascinating.  Chiang Mai is a really wonderful mix of Thai and Western influences.

Thailand means “Land of the Free” because it has never been colonized by the West and is also called “Land of Smiles”  because of the warmth of the people.  Thailand offers everything:  fascinating culture, some of the finest beaches in the world, excellent cuisine, great shopping, real value for money, an established infrastructure, and a population that loves you for loving its wonderful Kingdom.


Singapore is a unique island city/country – it may be small, but it has a lot to offer. Singapore is clean, with an ultra modern infrastructure and a major airport. With all its shopping malls, fast-food outlets, imported fashion, and steel skyscrapers, Singapore could look like any other contemporary city you’ve ever visited — but to peel through the layers is to understand that life here is far more complex. While the outer layers are startlingly Western, just underneath lies a curious area where East blends with West in language, cuisine, attitude, and style.  China Town, Arab Street, Little India….. a few to name of little communities which are located in Singapore.

MALAYSIA   If you can’t say anything nice, it is best to say nothing at all ….


How can I describe China who has never been there?  When I left for Asia, I knew nothing about China – well, except the geograhic location.  From the moment I landed in Shanghai, I was completely immersed in a culture that is much much different than the Western world.  WOW!

Hangzhou   Hanghzou is recognized as one of the most beautiful cities in China.  I spent a week teaching English with the Babel Summer English Camp program on the campus of Zhe Jiang University Hangzhou campus. The campus is really beautiful and my students were wonderful (of course).

LinHai  My second teaching assignment was in LinHai, a staff member at the Linhai Foreign Language School & Babel Summer English Camp (quite a mouthful).  In Linhai, there was no such thing as privacy – we did everything TOGETHER 24/7 for two weeks! I was lucky to have a wonderful roommate and work with excellent fellow teachers – and, of course, the best group of students!!

Qingdao  Qingdao is a lovely coastal city and a popular holiday destination, for good reason – I spent two peaceful days there, “recovering” from camp.

Beijing  It is impossible to summarize my days in Beijing in just a paragraph … read the rest of the blog  🙂

Shanghai  The last few days of my trip were spent in Shanghai.  In short, I loved it.  If you want to know more … well, read the most recent entries in the blog.

China is a land of contradictions.  It is a rural country with mega-cities.  And each of these cities is as modern as any western city with computers, construction, banking, internet, gas, machinery, energy use, pollution, etc …  There are fast-paced cities filled with people who are not doing anything.  There are sparkling new attractions amidst piles of rubble.  There is a general disregard for the environment but a recycling frenzy.  There is a “controlled” westernization – communism overrun by consumerism.  The Chinese are masters of a complex language but novices of English.  The people are very proper but spit everywhere and refuse to stand in a queue.

China does not exactly cater to independent travelers and it can be frustrating.  But for every obstacle there is a reward.  The people are on the whole extremely friendly, the sights are incredible, the food fantastic.  Overall, it was a great experience to actually see a country changing and growing by leaps and bounds almost daily.  It was definitely challenging some days, but I would not have had it any other way.

My “Big Adventure” has come to an end, but I look forward to the next one.

Be seeing you – 南希  (Nancy)




7 months later … March 2008

March 20th, 2008

I am revisiting my blog – WOW!  So much has happened …

I recently received an email from friends in Nepal.  The fun news is that they had SNOW for the first time in more than 60 years – the kids went nuts!!  It only lasted one day, but it was 24 hours of complete craziness.

The bad news is that the violence in Tibet has spread to the Kathmandu valley.  Boudhnath (Boudha) is generally acknowledged to be the most important Tibetan Buddhist monument outside Tibet and has now become the Mecca of Tibetan exiles in Nepal (more than 20,000 Tibetan refugees live in Nepal).  Tibetans staged a major demonstration in Boudha on March 10, marking the 49th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s escape to India after an unsuccessful uprising in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

It is difficult to express my sorrow and horror related to the current situation in Tibet. For almost fifty years the Dalai Lama has waged a non-violent struggle in exile to bring attention to the plight of his people and save their unique culture and religion.  The news reports of violent force being used against monks and nuns is heartbreaking – the photograhs of  overturned cars and burnt-out shops in Barkhor Square, the large open-air market area in front of Jokhang temple in the “Tibetan Quarter” of Lhasa are almost surreal.


It was my intention to travel to Lhasa while I was in Nepal, but there were a number of factors that prevented me from going through Tibet, including strict entry and exit travel restrictions in violation of my teaching contract in China.  I am not a Buddhist, or (obviously) Tibetan, and that culture is not my own. But the brief time I spent in Nepal and around the people affected me profoundly.

The most basic Buddhist greeting, Namasté means “The divine in me honors the divine in you.” If it were possible for all people who love Tibet, and those who love China, to think of everyone involved in this conflict in those terms – honoring the spiritual values in each side until there are no sides – solutions could be found.