Goodbye, 2019! Hello, 2020! My Year in Review!

Goodbye, 2019!  Hello, 2020! My Year in Review!

It’s twelve o’clock noon, December 31, 2019. I don’t make resolutions for the new year. I try every day to live my best life. I do, however, like to take time to reflect on the past year and how blessed I have been, to focus on the beautiful people who have crossed my path, the adventures I have had, the places I have visited and really be thankful for all of these things.

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Surin Beach, Phuket, Thailand ~ VW Bar

2019 was a great year for me! In January, I travelled to Surin Beach, Phuket Thailand. I was fortunate to find a wonderful family to stay with at Muchshima House. They welcomed me to their homestay and in the short time, I was there, became part of the family. They drove me to the beach in the morning, taught me to make traditional Thai dishes, my favorite being green Thai curry. They took me to the local night market to sample more traditional foods. It was the perfect start to 2019 and to leave my broken back of 2018 behind me.

February I celebrated my last Chinese New Year in the country I had called home for 4 years. Celebrating CNY in China is an experience I won’t soon forget. I loved the 4 years I lived in China. I am fortunate to have travelled more of the country than most people who live there. Although, I never really mastered the language. A language based on tones I couldn’t hear. I learned to speak the basics, numbers, directions and food but found learning to read the 汉字 (han zi) or Chinese characters a bit easier. I knew this would be my last Chinese New Year in the Middle Kingdom as I had begun the process of obtaining a work visa for Poland. Yes, I am going back to Europe to live for a while. I had always planned to stay somewhere in SE Asia, most likely Vietnam, when I left China, but Poland just fell into my lap and I decided why not?!

Not many people who say they will come visit you in a foreign land actually do. Well, in March and for the second time, my friend Debbie, who in 2017 came to meet me and we travelled to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, came to see me in China. We hung out in Beijing and where believe it or not practically had the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China all to ourselves. After a couple of days in Beijing, we flew to Seoul, South Korea for a whirlwind tour including the DMZ. Back in China, we headed to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors before returning to Dong’e, the town in which I was living.

April was a quiet month and life in Dong’e consisted of tutoring my kids in English, eating noodles, aka Lanzhou LaMian and getting my $5 per hour massages. I needed some downtime because after a broken back caused me to cancel a trip to Paris in September of 2018, May was the month I would meet my cousins and my friend Teri in Paris. We did most of the typical Paris tourist stuff since it was Bob and Sally’s first time, but then we took a couple days for some mad fun in Amsterdam, a first for the cousins and also Teri. Then it was back to Paris for a few more days. This trip also let me add country number 37 to my list as I scheduled my flight for a long layover in Qatar so I could take some time in the capital city of Doha. My second time in the Middle East and for the second time I arrived during Ramadan. It was still a most amazing experience as a friend from the states had a friend who’s daughter was living in Doha, so she was my tour guide.

June…time to wrap up life in China. It was a bittersweet month filled with dinner invites and farewell parties. I had spent two and a half years living in Dong’e whereas I only spent 6 months in the other cities I had lived in. My China life had been good to me, but it was time to move on. You don’t realize how much you accumulate in that amount of time. Decisions, decisions, decisions…what to keep, what to leave behind. My plan was to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam on my way to 4 months in Bali. I can only travel with what I can carry so that meant I shipped 6 boxes of “stuff” including all my “winter” clothes back to the USA and 1 box of school supplies, books, etc. to Bali. Microwave, toaster oven, air fryer, more clothes and shoes, all had to stay behind in China. Luckily for me, when Chinese people get together for a meal/party, it is always a feast, so I didn’t have to worry about making sure I got to eat all my favorite foods before I left. Saying goodbye to my students and their families was difficult and lots of tears were shed. They had become my family. After all the goodbyes had been said and the tears wiped dry, it was time to move full steam ahead to Vietnam.

I started off in Saigon, which it is still called by the locals, although its official name is Ho Chi Minh City. I stayed in the guesthouse I have stayed several times. It is right around the corner from my favorite pho shop. Yes, I ate pho, every.single.day! It is my crack. Then, I wanted to travel to HoiAn. I’m not sure why I thought taking a 24 hour bus would be fun, but I bought my tickets and off I went. The bus had sleeper seats, but being old, chubby and having had a broken back it wasn’t the most comfortable ride. Not to mention the only restroom breaks were whenever the bus decided to stop. No matter, I arrived in HoiAn around 6 am. I messaged my host at my homestay who met me at the bus stop. Since my room wouldn’t be available until around noon, he took me to his sister’s home so I could shower and rest until my room was ready. I loved HoiAn and decided to cancel my return bus ticket, stay a few more days and then fly back to Saigon. I planned to visit a friend I had met in 2016 but she had moved to Singapore. My time in Vietnam was winding down…next stop Bali, Indonesia.

There is nothing like stepping off the plane in Denpasar, Bali. I’ve always described it as a feast for the senses. My driver met me at the airport and off we went to Kenari House and my Balinese Family. Remember my friend Debbie who came to visit me in China in March? Well, she and her husband and another couple travelled to Bali in mid-August to spend 10 days with me at Kenari House. It was an amazing time.

Come September, it was time for me to move to another homestay as I was going to spend 6 weeks volunteering at a school for special needs children. I worked with so many amazing people and met the beautiful children and their families at Yayasan Widya Guna School in Bedulu, Bali, an experience that touched my heart and soul.

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Yayasan Widya Guna School for Special Needs

I also took a long weekend mid-September and flew to Singapore I was happy I was able to visit my friend from Vietnam. After 6 weeks at the school, I returned to my Balinese family at Kenari House. Bali has stolen my soul and my Kenari House family is my family. I will return as soon as I can. Loving my Bali life, I still hadn’t purchased a ticket back to the USA. Finally, at the beginning of November, I made a plan…..

After 53 hours, missed flights, Visa problems, cancelled flights and long layovers, my Peliatan, Bali, Indonesia home 9964.3 miles behind me, I arrived home in Warren, Ohio, USA. For the first time in 7 years, I would be returning to my hometown for the holidays and more importantly for the Grand Re-Opening of my brother’s historical theatre. I have gotten comfortable spending Christmas abroad including 4 years in a communist country, predominantly Buddhist and therefore does not celebrate Christmas….China. My first Christmas abroad, I spent in Paris, France. The next year I was also in Paris, but on Christmas Eve I decided to catch a train and spend it in Amsterdam. My Christmas’ in China brought me some of my most memorable experiences, but there is something about coming home and spending time with family and friends. Not that I didn’t have friends abroad, but those are friends for a season and most I will probably never see again. When you come back to your roots, the ties that bind are tight. The most beautiful thing is being able to pick up right where you left off as if not a day has passed.

So what’s it really like coming home for the holidays? It’s complicated, it’s hard, it’s chaotic and it’s wonderful!

Goodbye, 2019, you have been good to me! Hello, 2020! I can’t wait to experience whatever you have in store for me! From a flag, I saw in Bali and my mantra for 2020, “Free your spirit and dance with life!”

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My Bali Life

My Bali Life

Bali…Island of the Gods…Island of a Thousand Temples…The Last Paradise…whatever name you choose to call it, Bali is a feast for the senses. Stepping off a plane in Denpasar, day or night, the first thing you notice is the warm, humid air almost immediately turning to moisture on your skin. Yes, it is the same in all tropical destinations but in Bali, it is just the beginning. Since I am talking about “feeling” Bali on your skin, I do highly recommend Balinese massage. Balinese massage is a full body holistic treatment. It uses a combination of gentle stretches, acupressure, reflexology and aromatherapy to stimulate the flow of blood, oxygen and “qi” or energy to bring a sense of well-being, calm and relaxation. It is also a bargain at anywhere between 70,000 and 120,000 rupiahs or $5 to $10 per hour.

After clearing customs and grabbing your luggage, you are met by your local driver. Wow, men in skirts… correctly called a kamen and on their heads an udeng (symbolizing a clear mind). You soon notice men and women all around you in colorful, traditional Balinese dress. Along with a kamen, women will be wearing a kebaya (lace jacket) and an anteng or sash around the waist. So, off you go with your driver and the next thing you notice is the sight and sound of motorbikes aka scooters everywhere. With close to 3 million registered scooters on an island 90 miles long and 50 miles wide (2176 sq. mi) they are hard to miss. If you plan on renting a scooter while in Bali, be sure to get your international driver’s license before arrival, it’s mandatory along with wearing a helmet. Fines can be steep and it’s not unusual for foreigners to be pulled over for seemingly no reason.

So, you have left the busy, capital city of Denpasar and arrive at your destination, most likely Ubud or a beach town such as Canggu, Kuta or Seminyak. Although 88% of Indonesia is Muslim, Bali is 85% Hindu and you will see symbols of the religion and culture everywhere you look. You will probably notice statues wearing a black and white checked cloth called a saput poleng which symbolizes the coexistence of opposites and the ultimate goal of harmony. The Balinese people believe that joy will always be balanced by sorrow, that good and evil exists in the world and everyone. They embrace the differences because they create balance and harmony.

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You will see many split gates or Candi Bentar which are an important feature in Balinese temple architecture. They mark the entrances of the temples or puras in Balinese, drawing a line between holy grounds and the outside world. Legend tells us that Lord Shiva split the mythical Indonesian Mt. Meru (home of the gods) into 2 halves which became Gunung Agung and Gunung Batur, Bali’s 2 primary volcanoes. It is believed that the candi bentar represents the 2 halves of mythical Mt. Meru. Sadly, in my humble opinion, because of Instagram, the most famous candi bentar is at one of Bali’s oldest and most sacred temples ~ Pura Lempuyang and is nicknamed “Gate to Heaven”. If you have any interest in Bali, I’m sure you have seen photos of the now-famous Gate to Heaven that frames the peak of Gunung Agung. I say sadly, because when I first visited Pura Lempuyang almost 2 years ago, I was one of maybe 6 people at the temple. This year, August and October 2019, there was a 2 hour and an over 3-hour wait respectively to take a photo between the now Instagram famous “Gate”. Many are also surprised/disappointed to discover there is no lake or water at the gates but merely a camera trick of placing a mirror beneath the camera lens so that the picture appears to be reflected on non-existent water. Not only that, but you must hand your phone over to a “local” photographer with a donation so he will snap your photo and you get 3 poses. I personally find the Gate to Heaven stunning without the Instagram sham of water. I also feel that most people are there to get that all-important Instagram shot and forget or maybe don’t even know that Pura Lempuyang is one of Bali’s six major temples known as Sad (six) Kahyangan (place of Gods) or that it is only one of seven temples in the complex. Whether you choose to take a number and wait for the “shot” or not, the temple is well worth a visit just for the view of Gunung Agung, but please respect the fact that it is a sacred place to the Balinese.

With over 25,000 species of plants in this tropical climate, you may next notice the flora. The vivid colors of bougainvillaea and lotus flower then the sweet scent of my favorite the frangipani are everywhere you turn. Flowers are an important piece of Balinese culture. As part of their everyday life, they are used in the offerings or Canang Sari. Canang is a small woven basket from palm leaves and sari means essence. Broken down further can = beauty (like you feel the view) nang = purpose and sari = source. Typically, a family places about 15 offerings per day, more on special ceremony days. The canang sari is handmade daily and it is considered self-sacrifice with the time it takes to make the offerings. The offering must have certain elements representing the Trimurti or 3 major Hindu gods; white lime for Shiva, red betel nut for Vishnu and green gambier plant for Brahma. On top of these are placed petals. White petals facing East for Iswara, red petals facing South for Brahma, yellow petals facing West for Mahadeva and blue or green facing North for Vishnu. The offerings also can contain food items, rice, crackers small cakes, etc. Along with an incense stick, these offerings are placed with a prayer ritual to deliver the sari (essence) of the canang to heaven. A flower dipped in holy water is sprinkled over the canang along with a spoken prayer as in a symbolic merging of earth, fire, wind, and water. The smoke from the incense carries the essence of the offering to the gods. These offerings are to maintain balance and peace on earth amidst good and evil and between heaven and hell. Within this ritual is an understanding that both positive and negative energies exist in the world. It is up to us to seek balance and harmony in our personal lives, in our community, and in the world. What appears to be a simple basket of flowers is really an important part of Balinese life.

Outside of the roar of motorbikes, you will also hear the entrancing sound of gamelan music. The gamelan is the traditional ensemble music of Javanese, Sudanese and Balinese in Indonesia, made up of mostly percussive instruments. The predominant instrument is the metallophone which is played using a mallet. I have been fortunate to attend gamelan lessons with the children from my homestay.

Gamelan is played on formal occasions, during many traditional ceremonies and as an accompaniment to Balinese dance. For most, gamelan is an integral part of Balinese culture. Certain pieces are believed to have magic powers and can be used to ward off evil spirits. Interestingly, gamelan is also used in the Catholic Church of Indonesia. Another sound that I relate to Bali is the sound of the tokay gecko. Nocturnal, you will hear them “barking” at night. You will also need to get used to seeing them wandering across your walls and ceiling.

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I said earlier, Bali is a feast for the senses. I have covered sight, smell, hearing, and touch. That leaves taste, the taste of Bali. Ketut, from my homestay family was a chef before they opened their homestay. That means I learned a lot about Balinese foods and traditional spices during my stay. I love the spiciness of the food in Bali and that sambal comes as a condiment with most dishes. Sambal is a blend of chilis and spices. There is no one recipe and it can be prepared a hundred different ways. It is definitely a food staple in Bali. A few of my favorite foods are nasi and mi goreng (nasi meaning rice, mi meaning noodles and goreng meaning fried), pisang (banana) goreng and the easy to grab street food nasi jinggo which is rice, meat, vegetables and condiment, usually a type of sambal all wrapped up in a banana leaf. I can’t forget about the sate ayam (chicken), babi (pork) and kambing (goat) all topped with peanut sauce. Of course, no trip to Bali is complete unless you try the babi guling or suckling pig.

Oh, and I must mention the avocados (sometimes as big as my head, well, almost). You haven’t tasted avocado until you eat one plucked right off the tree. The same holds true to eating the fruits….mango, papaya, dragon, guava….there is nothing like it! Another personal favorite, right up there with pho and Lanzhou LaMian, is mi ayam which is actually an Indonesian dish versus Balinese, but an almost daily menu item for me.

Bali, you feed my senses and you have stolen my soul. Until next time. I’ll leave you with the traditional Balinese greeting… spoken with hands clasped in front of the chest in a relaxed prayer position …. “Om Swasti Astu” or “peace and greetings from God” and the traditional goodbye… “Om Santih Santih Santih Om” or to wish you “peace in body, speech and mind”.

Do You Hate Being Back?

Do You Hate Being Back?

I left Bali just over a week ago. I left 90 degrees and wall to wall sunshine to spend 53 hours in planes, trains and automobiles to arrive in grey, chilly NE Ohio.  The temperature was hovering around the freezing point, my plane touched down around midnight in Cleveland, the gate wasn’t ready, and we had to wait about 20 minutes on the plane. Welcome to Ohio.  I finally got off the plane and got my plastic-wrapped broken bag (one wheel and the handle had come off) and was greeted by my friend Cathy with a pizza from our local pizza joint, Sunrise Inn.

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Boy did that taste good as I settled in for the approximately 70-minute drive home.  Home ~ a condo I had not yet lived in, that was stacked with boxes of “stuff” I hadn’t seen in several years. My sofa and bed freshly steam cleaned were also waiting for my arrival.  My condo is in a building in the downtown area of the city where I grew up.  I knew we wouldn’t have any trouble finding a parking spot at 2 am.  The problem being, my suitcase weighed in at 27 kilos or nearly 60 lbs and my condo is on the 3rd floor of an old, but newly remodelled building with no elevator (it does have a chair lift) and it is 42 steep stairs to my front door.  Lucky for me, the bar in the basement of the hotel a few doors down was still open.  Nick the bartender gladly and with ease, I might add, carried it up the 42.  You would think after over 2 days of travel I would be ready to crawl into that bed.  Wrong!  It was sometime between 4 and 4:30 am that I finally dozed off only to awaken again at 6:30 am.  And so it begins…….#mywarrenlife!

Not able to go back to sleep, I got up, ate some Sunrise pizza, found my electric kettle, the coffee I brought back from Bali, put some shoes on, headed down the 42, out the door and down the street to the Best Western to get some condiments for my coffee. Thanks, Pia!  Back up the 42, coffee made may as well start opening boxes, etc.

My brother was in town as he has taken on a huge renovation project of a local theatre which has been closed since 1974.  I knew he would be up and working so I shot him a text and he was indeed at the theatre.  He told me I should head down to the Sunrise (the restaurant of my prior night’s pizza) for breakfast.  One nice thing about downtown living is the ability to walk to many places.  It was a sunny morning and I took a 10-minute stroll down to the Sunrise.  It was great seeing my brother and sister-in-law after over a year and a half.  Next, it was off to the theatre for a peek at the renovations, a visit to FattyCakes Soap Company (owned by a friend) and then into Nova Coffee Company (next to my building) for more caffeine.  Little did I know what the day had in store for me.  My friend Teri then picked me up and off we went to start some day drinking at the Buena Vista Café, known locally as the BV.

From there I met my brother and sister-in-law for dinner at a new wine bar in town called CharBenays Wine on the River (proprietors being Char and Ben).  Then I made my way to the restaurant that I live above, Jacked and finally ended the evening with cocktails at Speakeasy in the basement of the Best Western with Nick the bartender that hauled my luggage up the 42.  All I know is I was a bit tipsy and exhausted when I climbed back up the 42 and into bed.  All this and I had only been back in town for less than 24 hours.

At some point over the course of the next few days, I was asked, “Do you hate being back?”  I actually had to stop and think for a few seconds before answering.  First, hate is a strong word, so no, I don’t hate being back, but yes, there are things I don’t like about being back.  Most people complain about Ohio weather this time of year, but I have been lucky, and it has been rather mild so far, so no complaints on that.  I love my condo; I love downtown living and I love what is happening in downtown Warren. What do I not like about being back?  First let me say that Warren, Ohio is probably one of the cheapest places in the country to live.  That being said, I was quickly reminded that I don’t like the cost of goods.  A trip to the Dollar Store cost me over $50 for what would have most likely been less than $10 in China.

I got very used to fresh fruits right off the tree in Bali that were bursting with flavor.  By the time a mango arrives in Warren, Ohio, it has probably artificially ripened on a slow boat from somewhere and lacks that juicy deliciousness.  Can you even get a bowl of soup for $3 or under?  I have gotten very used to paying about 45 cents for a big bowl of noodle soup.  Food, in general, wasn’t what I had hoped for.  The places I have lived don’t sell things in cans or boxes and they don’t have preservatives.  My stomach has not liked eating since I have returned.  Of course, coming back around the holidays and after nearly 2 years of being gone, everyone wants to meet for food and drink, so I’m sure overindulgence is a big part of the problem.  Driving…..I DON’T LIKE DRIVING.  Of course, I didn’t like driving before I left either so maybe that doesn’t really count.  I had gotten used to walking 5 to 10 km (3 to 6 miles) a day in Bali.  At least living downtown, I do walk a few blocks to local establishments, but here, driving is a necessity that I don’t like.

The thing that I really don’t like about being back is I miss the simplicity of life.  Life here just seems more complicated.  Life is a big timetable of schedules and deadlines.  Even when I was working in other countries, I didn’t feel like I was a slave to the clock.  People just seemed more casual about time, whereas here, everyone seems to always be rushing around. Unpacking my boxes and looking at my stuff still in storage, I ask myself, why do you have all this stuff?  I’m not talking about things I have brought back from my journeys, but do I really need 50 wine glasses? Or more clothes than all the students at my school combined?  Really, 12 pairs of jeans?  I have 4 fancy espresso machines, a French press, a portable espresso maker, an electric kettle and 4 Vietnamese phins, when in Bali I was used to ground coffee put in a cup with hot water, just don’t drink to the bottom.  I did also have my French press, but that was all I needed.

I learned to get by with less, to live simply.  I wore only what I could carry with me, I ate what the locals ate.  I thought I missed the food I couldn’t get where I was living.  Now I find myself missing foods from China, Vietnam and Bali.  I felt healthier.  I miss the nights of sitting on the porch playing Uno or other games with my homestay family or just sitting around chatting.  There was no TV and no one had their faces glued to their phones.  It was simple.

Don’t get me wrong, as I sit here on Thanksgiving morning I have much to be thankful for, I love my condo with my Toto toilet, I love my stuff (I just have too much), I love my family and friends and I love America!  There is something about coming through customs and the border patrol stamps your passport and says, “Welcome Home”!

Do I hate being back?  No, but I’m just not ready to settle back into life in the USA quite yet.  I’m sure the time will come, just like when I knew it was time to leave China.  I loved my life in China, but one day I woke up and knew I was ready to move on.  I loved my life in Bali, but I knew I wanted to be home for the holidays this year.  I’ve committed to a job in Poland, so that is next for me.  It will be different from life in SE Asia and different than life in America. How long will I be gone?  I have no idea.  I don’t see myself returning for at least a year.  I also plan to return to Bali as it has taken my soul.  As for the simple life……I will sort through my stuff and downsize.  If you plan to come to visit me, I can make all kinds of coffee and I have plenty of wine glasses, but don’t expect to watch TV…..I have no plans to get a television…it’s simple!

Do I hate being back? It’s good to be home….for now!

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Going Home

Going Home

I’m sitting on my bed at Kenari House in Peliatan, Bali, Indonesia. Kenari House has been my home for the better part of 3.5 months in Bali and Ketut, Koming, Kirana and Kiara have been my family. If you ever make it to Bali and want to stay in the Ubud area, be sure and look up Kenari Guesthouse. You won’t regret it, especially if you are looking for a true Balinese experience. This is my third trip to the “Island of the Gods”. I have spent each visit at Kenari House and truly consider it “home” when I am here. I arrived at the end of July and at the end of August was fortunate to have 4 friends visit from the USA. I know they will agree that Kenari House is home and I was thrilled to be able to share my Bali life with them. Shortly after they left, I moved to a new homestay so I could volunteer at a school for children with special needs, Yayasan Widya Guna, but more on that in a future post. I spent 6 weeks at the school before moving back home to Kenari House. My life in Bali is coming to an end (for now) and I am “going home” for the holidays.

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Koming, Ketut, Kirana and Kiara. My home and family in Bali

So, where is home? I was born in Kimbrough Army Hospital in Fort Meade, Maryland. I grew up in small-town Warren, Ohio. I had a home for over 6 months in Paris, France in 2014/15. I lived in China for 4 years beginning in 2015 and now I have just called Kenari House in Bali home. Life abroad changes your thoughts about “home”, but for this post “home” is my hometown, where I grew up, went to school, where I still have friends and family, and from where I first moved abroad. I first wrote about going home a little over 2 years ago after a brief visit back to Warren, Ohio, my roots. It was then I discovered that my own country can indeed feel like a foreign land and give you a sense of reverse culture shock. My latest post about home was last year before the holidays as I was about to spend my sixth holiday season away.

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Now, as I’m preparing to leave Bali and return to Warren for what will be the longest period in several years, many thoughts, memories and emotions are bombarding me. Christmas 2013 in Paris…. alone after my breakup and something I needed to do to get back to me. 2014 in Amsterdam……on a whim, I boarded a train on Christmas Eve morning from Paris, spent the night on a boat on a canal with a dozen strangers and shared Christmas breakfast before heading to the zoo. Then it was back to Paris to meet friends from the states joining me for the New Year. 2015, 16, 17 and 18 in China…. a communist country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas yet gave me some of my fondest memories celebrating with people I will most likely never see again. Thanksgiving 2018 in Incheon, South Korea when the chef at the Hyatt prepared a turkey dinner just for me.

2019…. for the first time in a while I am a bit excited to be going home. I have travelled all over the world, mostly Asia, for the better part of the last five years. During these travels, I have met amazing people from all walks of life. I survived being hit by a car and suffering a broken back in China. I have a new condo in Warren, Ohio I have never lived in waiting to be filled with memories of my life abroad. My hometown is amid a resurgence with many new places to explore. My brother is re-opening a vintage theatre with ties to Hollywood that he has restored to original. Most importantly, I have family and friends that I haven’t seen in over a year and a half waiting for me to come home.

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Although I say I am excited, that also comes with a plethora of other emotions, thoughts and words. Sad for one…. how can I be sad about going home for the holidays? I’m not sad about going home, but sad about what I am leaving behind. I have spent the last 4+ years on the Asian continent and travelled not only all over China, including Hong Kong and Tibet but also to Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Cambodia, Singapore, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. I love this part of the world. My plan is to move to Poland at the end of January beginning of February 2020. Which I am also very excited about, but that also means that most likely I won’t be returning to Asia anytime soon. Hence, the sad part. As the saying goes, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”. So, I guess my next word should be happy. Yes, I am happy. Happy for the experiences I have had and happy to be going home…. for a while…wink, wink!

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Apprehension…..going home after a one or two week vacation is one thing, but going home for an extended period after 5 years on the road is another. Everyone back home has been going about their everyday lives in small hometown America while it appears you have been living life in exotic, far away places. It’s true! You have been far away and sometimes visiting exotic locales, but for the most part, you too have gone about day to day life, most often routine. Can you fall back into that small-town life? Other than what you know about their lives on social media, you really don’t understand or know their daily struggles and triumphs. So how do you ease back into their lives? Do people really care about what you have been doing? It’s okay if they don’t because you made your choice for you, not for anyone else. I think if everyone who has been gone long term is honest, they must be a bit apprehensive about going home! I am.

Hopeful……. I wish my family and friends could meet every one of the amazing people I have met on my journey. They are the reason I chose the word hopeful. These are the people who give me hope…. hope for humanity. Last night, 8° south of the equator beneath a star-filled sky, I was sitting outside on the porch with my Balinese family playing Uno. The kids weren’t watching TV, mom and dad weren’t looking at their phones and I wasn’t trying to unblock my Facebook account. We were laughing, talking (they sometimes in Balinese), eating chips and sometimes there was a little cheating (all in good fun) going on. These are the moments that truly give me hope. I have experienced moments like this in every country I have visited. There really are more good, kind people in the world than not.

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Fortunate…. I don’t want to use the word lucky here. Luck didn’t bring me to the other side of the world. It was a conscious choice. A decision initially made because I wanted to run away, but eventually turned into a lifestyle path on which I choose to remain. Although I do often feel blessed, I’m not sure that is the proper word, so I am going with fortunate. I have been fortunate to have good health (a broken back was just a minor setback) to travel, the courage to continue as a solo female, the desire to meet new people and experience other cultures and the means to accomplish these things. I have also been fortunate to have the support of family and friends throughout my sometimes-crazy journey.

Hungry…… YES, I am hungry!!! Hungry for pizza from my local hometown joint, Sunrise. Hungry for a bloody, rare sirloin and a blue cheese olive stuffed beefeater martini from the Buena Vista. Hungry for all the hometown favorites. I have loved the food all over the world and I will miss “real” Chinese food. I will miss eating pho at a corner street stall in Saigon. I will miss the 7000 rupiah (50 cents) mie ayam at the local warung and all of Ketut’s Balinese food. But, I’m hungry for food I can only get “at home”. Thanksgiving dinner here I come.

Hungry ……. Besides the food I’ve missed, I am still hungry for new adventures, new locales, new experiences.

So, I’m going home. I’ve touched on a few of the “feels” I’m experiencing, but more than anything, I am thankful. When I think back over the past 5+ years, I could fill a book on things I am thankful for. To each and every one of you who have touched my life and had a part in my journey, thank you. Thank you for opening your hearts and homes to me. I know I have left pieces of my heart in so many places around the world. I’ve often said, Paris is my heart… now Bali is my soul ….. and finally Warren, Ohio you are my home and I’m coming. See you soon, its only for a couple short months, but I’ve missed you.

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Bali ~ Island of the Gods ~ Bhinneka Tunggal Ika ~ Out of Many, One ~ Unity in Diversity

Bali ~ Island of the Gods ~ Bhinneka Tunggal Ika ~ Out of Many, One ~ Unity in Diversity

I grew up in a “Christian” household, Presbyterian to be exact.  Mom and grandma taught Sunday School, sang in the church choir, were elders, deacons, etc.  You get the picture. I was young when my mom’s father died, so although I know he was active in the church, I don’t have strong memories.  My dad, he knew the bible inside and out. He read me bible stories as bedtime stories and I remember “Old Rugged Cross” and his favorite, “In the Garden” being played as part of the Sunday morning repertoire on the antique green stereo console in our living room.  But, dad only attended church on Easter and Christmas or a special event in which we (me or my brother, Mark) might be participating.  He said he didn’t need to sit with hypocrites to justify his faith.

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With a monk in Lhasa, Tibet

I have been blessed to live and travel to many places around the globe that don’t practice Christianity.  I’ve been to mosques and listened to the prayers of those of Islamic faith.  I have sat with monks in Buddhist temples. I have attended a service of Caodaism (cultivating self and finding god in self) in Tay Ninh, Vietnam. I have sat in monasteries in Tibet and read the teachings of the Dalai Lama. I have been to a Hindu cremation ceremony in Kathmandu, Nepal which follows closely to the Hinduism of India.

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Cao Dai Service in Vietnam

Currently, I am in Bali, Indonesia and have attended many Balinese Hindu ceremonies which differ from those of India.  I have witnessed the exhumation of a human body for cremation (Ngaben). I’ve been to a Nelubulanin/Nyambutin ceremony which is like our baptism and is performed for a baby when they reach 3 months (105 days) by the Balinese calendar.  I’ve been to the temple ceremony of Odalan which is the anniversary of the Temple.  Most recently, I have had the opportunity to pray at Pura Besakih or the Mother Temple.

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Cremation Ceremony Kathmandu, Nepal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bali, Island of the Gods, is one of 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago.  A small island 95 miles east to west and 70 miles north to south, it is located 8°south of the equator and is inhabited by approximately 4 million people. Unlike the majority of Indonesian Islands which are Muslim, Bali is 85% Hindu.  There are over 20,000 temples on Bali.

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Island of the Gods

 

 

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Lempuyang

 

 

 

 

 

Growing up Christian, we heard stories of missionaries in far off lands converting these “pagans”, “non-believers” and even those of other faiths to Christianity.  Through my travels, I have come to question this practice and ask, “Why”?  Why do we in the west think that our religion is the one true and right religion that everyone else should follow?  I decided to write this post, first, after a discussion on my cousin Bobby’s Facebook page turned slightly aggressive by some of the Christian faith.   Secondly, a recent visit and conversations with friends who came to visit me in Bali and had the opportunity to witness Balinese Hinduism firsthand and which they seemed to embrace.

 

I’m not denouncing my Christianity, but I find myself being open to accepting the beliefs of other religions.  I believe in God. I believe in the power of prayer. I have also become more spiritual since opening myself to these cultures and their beliefs. Being in Bali, Balinese Hinduism is seen every part of everyday.  Yes, as Christians, we are taught to be Godly in our everyday life, say our prayers before bed, etc. but, if truth be told it is “seen” mostly on Sundays.  In Bali, every household or family compound has a family temple.  Each morning offerings or canang sari are placed around the compound, in the streets, on statues, etc.  Walk down any street in Bali you will see small woven baskets made from coconut leaves and filled with flowers, rice, a banana slice and topped with a smoldering incense stick.  Daily offerings and a morsel of food are left on the ground to appease the lower spirits. By honoring both the higher and lower spirits of a household negativity is balanced with positivity thus ensuring family harmony.  When placing the offering, a flower is dipped into a bowl of tirta (water taken from the holy spring) and delicately sprinkled over the canang sari.  This completes the fusion of earth, fire, wind and water.  After 3 waves of the palm facing downward accompanied by a prayer, the smoke carries the essence of the offerings up to God.

 

The offerings aren’t made for you, or me or the people that create them.  They are made, given and left for the unseen, a selfless act in a self-filled world.

So, Balinese Hinduism has prayers, a belief in heaven and a God, just like Christianity, monotheistic.  They worship one God called Sang Hyang Widi.  Balinese Hinduism is a very personal spiritual experience of an individual’s journey so they can find meaning in their life and to appreciate the people around them and see God in all.   It has 3 basic principles or Tri Hita Karena;

To honor the connection between:

  1.   Humans and God (Parahyangan)
  2.   Humans and Humans (Pawongan)
  3.   Humans and Nature (Palemahan)

The above is a very brief and simple explanation of a much more complex religion, but one that I have come to embrace and strive to learn more about.  Traveling solo and living different cultures has afforded me the opportunity to look deeper into myself and my personal journey of spirituality.  The first place I really felt a pull of spirituality was Tibet.  I had such a peaceful feeling there that I struggle to find the words to describe it. There was something magical about Tibet.  I am still drawn to that culture, but the connection I feel to Bali is overwhelming.  I have never experienced a culture that is more welcoming or a people that always seem happy and peaceful.

It’s kind of funny, if you know me, you know my favorite place in the world is Paris.  I’ve just spent 4 years living in China before moving to Bali.  The Chinese word for Paris is 巴黎 or Bālí.  The Chinese word for Bali is 巴厘岛 or Bālí dǎo.  Okay, so that really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with this post except it is kind of unusual that I am drawn to 2 places that seem to have little in common except for their Chinese names.

 

So, back to my spirituality.  I have such a sense of peace since I have been here.  I have been moved to tears for no reason at Temple or the sight of a simple flower or a child in full Temple dress. Bali is an assault on the senses; the colors, the scents, the sounds. When my friends, Henry, Debbie, Larry and Amy were here, we had the opportunity to go to Pura Besakih or the Mother Temple.  When we arrived, I immediately thought of Angkor Wat, another place I have been blessed to visit.  Our guide began telling us the history and facts of Besakih.  We had purchased offerings before entering the Temple. This allowed to go to the top and pray and receive a blessing and holy water.  Just arriving at that part of the Temple, I was overcome with an energy and couldn’t hold back the tears.  As the five of us sat in a drizzle of cleansing rain, our guide talked us through the prayer ceremony.  He lit our incense (the smoke takes our prayers to heaven) and explained what to do with the flowers in our offering.  After we finished the prayer service the Priest came and blessed us with holy water and gave us holy water to drink.  Our guide then one by one took 9 strings of color and wound them into bracelets one at a time.  Peace, energy, harmony, balance, gratitude and spirituality are just a few of the emotions I felt.  I still wear the bracelet and it reminds me daily to be thankful for the blessings I have received in life.

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Pura Besakih

 

 

 

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Our bracelets from Besakih

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t want to start an argument about religion, but I can’t help but wish more people could experience just a small portion of what Balinese Hinduism is all about. There is a Balinese quote from Swami Vivekananda that has makes me think of my brother, “The great success of true happiness is this: the man or woman who asks for no return, the perfectly unselfish person, is the most successful”. Balinese Hinduism is all about selflessness.

The National Motto of Indonesia is “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” or Out of Many, One or Unity in Diversity.  The full motto states, “It is said that the well known Buddha and Shiva are two different substances; they are indeed different, yet how is it possible to recognize their difference in a glance, since the truth of Buddha, and the truth of Shiva are one?  They may be different, but they are of the same kind, as there is no duality in truth.”

How much better the world would be if we could put aside our differences.  I am currently at a school for special needs children.  On the main building, it reads, “Allow differences, respect differences until differences are no longer different.”

If Paris is my heart, Bali has become my soul!

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When Your Ordinary is Someone’s Extraordinary.

When Your Ordinary is Someone’s Extraordinary.

The dictionary tells us that ordinary means with no special or distinctive features; normal. A few synonyms are usual, common, standard and routine. It also tells us that extraordinary means very unusual, remarkable, amazing, spectacular and sensational.

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My Ordinary Morning

I’m sitting here on a Saturday morning, going through my ordinary daily routine. I’m at the part where I drink coffee. But what makes today different, is that this time next week, my daily routine won’t include sitting at my desk sipping coffee in my apartment in Dong’e, Shandong, China. My life here, and in China is coming to an end. Sure, the plan to leave China was set in motion several months ago and as each day gets ticked off that calendar in your head the thought becomes more real. Actually, it becomes most real when I look into the spare room at the explosion of “stuff” that either fits into my suitcase or my backpack or it stays. Today, it hit me in a surreal way. I was in a dreamlike state, probably brought on by the quantity of the consumption of alcoholic beverages consumed last night at the Dong’e Beer Festival. I was startled back to reality by a series of firecrackers going off. This is an ordinary occurrence in China, but it made me think, “wow, what I now consider ordinary, used to be what I considered extraordinary”.

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I often hear from folks on the other side of the world that I live an amazing life. I will admit, that, yes, I do, but living abroad for the better part of 5 years, every day isn’t a “WOW”. Some days are even humdrum. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. My first stint at life abroad was living 6 months in Paris.  It’s true when you first arrive all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you have an overwhelming urge to be a tourist. Running out every morning to see what you can see and collapsing into bed every night exhausted. Until that day you tell yourself, stop, this is my life right now. It’s okay to, God forbid, stay home one day and not see if you can catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Soon, you fall into a routine and living in Paris is really not that much different than living in Warren, Ohio…..haha, okay, that’s a lie.

Living in Paris is awesome, but what I’m trying to say is you begin to fall into a routine, your ordinary day to day life. When I say it’s not much different than living in Warren, Ohio, what I mean is, Paris becomes your ordinary. Get up, make coffee, piddle around, go to the market, stop for a coffee or a glass of rose (because drinking rose in the middle of the day is ordinary), read, blog, answer emails while you sit, go home, make dinner, do whatever, go to bed and start over again. Very soon, catching the metro, catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, going to the Louvre on a Sunday (it’s free 1 Sunday a month in the winter) just to wander, taking a spin on one of the 50+ carousels, going to a Sunday service at Notre Dame and so on, has become your ordinary. Until someone comes to visit, suddenly, you want to share all the extraordinary things you have started to take for granted.

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Welcome to China, home to 1.4 billion people

Landing in China in 2015 opened a whole new world of extraordinary. I started out in Beijing, oh my, people everywhere. Seriously, I have been to NYC, LA, Miami and lived in Paris, but Beijing has 22 million people. That is double the population of the entire state of Ohio, 2.5 times NYC, 5 times LA, 10 times that of Paris and Miami is a mere half-million in comparison. That’s an extraordinary amount of people, people who have no concept of personal space. Get on the metro in Beijing, just when you think not one more person can get in the car, 7 more get on at the next stop. Extraordinary! Soon, large numbers of people who get in your personal space and talk loudly as if arguing, spit in public and have no concept of queues become part of your normal.

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Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall of China

I was blown away by the Great Wall of China, its age, the length, the whole concept was extraordinary.  Yet, many, maybe even most, Chinese people I met have never been to see the Great Wall.  I guess that’s like Americans never visiting the Grand Canyon or seeing the Statue of Liberty….it’s ordinary.  Order chicken in America.  What do you get?  Breasts, thighs, legs and wings or if you get a whole roasted chicken it comes sans head and feet.  Order chicken in China, you get a platter with pieces and parts, nothing that resembles a breast or thigh and plan on getting the head and 2 chicken feet.  Duck heads….a delicacy.  A bowl of bugs instead of peanuts, ordinary.

 

 

Use a restroom in China, bring your own toilet paper or tissues and plan to squat. Cars, motorbikes, electric scooters, small 3 wheeled cars and 2- and 3-wheel bicycles clog the streets and often traffic rules seem non-existent. Fruit salads come with tomatoes and slathered in mayonnaise. Buddhist monks with cell phones are an ordinary sight in many cities. Another extraordinary experience is going to the supermarket. In China, every part of the animal is eaten so don’t be surprised by heart, kidneys, ears, eyes, brains, intestines, you name it, in the meat cooler. Don’t be surprised by animals being slaughtered on the street in a local street market. It’s just ordinary day to day life. I’ve experienced families that have no running water in their home. We had to wash our hair in a basin. Clothes are often hand washed in basins and hung to dry. I had a washer that was semi-automatic and no dryer, but that was my ordinary. You realize your initial extraordinary has become your ordinary when you have a first-time visitor and they point out and ask questions about things that you don’t even bat an eye over.

I’m finishing this blog post as I sit in Peliatan, Bali, Indonesia, my home for the next 3.5 months where I will be learning a whole new ordinary. On my way here I spent 2 weeks in Vietnam. 1 week in Saigon and 1 in Hoi An. 2 different worlds, one big city and one smaller seaside community. The biggest extraordinary for me in both places was crossing the street. Often there are few traffic signals, you wait for the slightest break in traffic and begin to slowly cross. The extraordinary thing is traffic will adjust to avoid you and other vehicles. It never really stops, but zigs and zags and life continues. I’m not sure this could ever become my ordinary. I must admit; I was slightly stressed every time I had to cross a busy street.

Now here in Bali, the daily ritual of offerings or canang sari along with other Balinese Hindu traditions and ceremonies will become my ordinary. Sometimes eating with my hands instead of utensils, ordinary, just don’t use your left hand.

I’m not sure I really had a point when I started this over 3 weeks ago, but one thing I do want to say is to take time to smell the roses.  We rush through daily life doing our ordinary things and falling into our routines. When you are sitting, sipping that cup of coffee, enjoy it. Take time to think about the things you are grateful for. When you eat your next meal, take time to really taste it. When you ask someone, “how are you?”, really mean it and listen to what they say. Look at things you pass every day on your way to work. Our Courthouse, for instance, on the square in Warren, it’s really a beautiful work of architecture.  I’m blessed that my ordinary life is often quite extraordinary.  Peace Out!

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Beautiful Trumbull County Courthouse  Warren, Ohio USA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Cheese in China! Things I Will and Won’t Miss in the Middle Kingdom

No Cheese in China!                                Things I Will and Won’t Miss in the Middle Kingdom

The communist party took over mainland China in 1949.  February 1972, I was 9 years old and President Nixon became the first president to visit the PRC, People’s Republic of China, ending 25 years of no communication or diplomatic ties between the two countries.  His visit also allowed the American public to view images of China for the first time in over two decades.  Other than whatever knowledge a 9-year-old would get in school, Nixon’s visit sparked my interest in the “Middle Kingdom”.  It was finally in 1978, under Deng Xiaoping, that China opened its borders to foreign visitors.  I remember thinking it would be cool to see/walk the Great Wall of China.  The next time I remember hearing/seeing big news from China was June 1989 and the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square.

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The Tiananmen Square incident recently marked its 30th anniversary.  It was all over Facebook, but I never saw or heard about it on any Chinese social media.  Why? I’m not going to get into politics here, but one reason is Social Media in China is government controlled…..no Facebook, no Instagram, no Google, not even Pinterest UNLESS you access the internet using a VPN (a virtual private network).  Known as the Great Firewall of China, the PRC has even been known to block VPN’s when they feel it necessary.  One thing I won’t miss when I leave China is having to log onto a VPN!

I’m starting off with a negative because as I am writing this, I am multi-tasking.  I’m blogging while attempting to use the internet.  I say attempting because my VPN continues to drop, my Wi-Fi is almost nonexistent, and it’s frustrating………

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Garlic and Rice Vinegar for Dumplings

 

Ah, China, 中国, Zhōngguó, the Middle Kingdom, land of 1.4 billion, the place you hate to love and love to hate, the place I have called home for 4 years.  Before arriving, my thoughts/images of China were The Great Wall, a funny language made up of stick pictures instead of letters, dumplings, eating with chopsticks, cheap merchandise, technology, General Tso’s chicken, rice, kung fu, tai chi, and pandas, to name a few.  I knew its history/culture was deep in tradition.  What I didn’t realize was just how deep and important these cultural traditions were in everyday life.  After arriving, I quickly learned I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and there’s no cheese in China.  What I mean is, China is very “Eastern”, unless you are in one of the bigger/popular cities, you will be hard pressed to find “Western” products/amenities or English language.   What you will discover is an amazing culture, kind people and a beautiful country.

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A Small Round Table Dinner

One thing I will miss are the “round table” dinners.  When a group goes out to eat, they are seated around a large or ginormous, depending on the number, round table with a rotating top.  When everyone is seated, dishes of amazing food start appearing.  A little side note on tradition, no one sits until the host has arrived.  Often, being a foreigner, I was the “guest of honor” and there was a certain position at the table where I had to sit.  This position would be the center of the table facing east or facing the entrance to the room.  Also, it is considered unlucky to start eating until there are a certain number of dishes on the table.  These feasts are amazing and will be missed.  One thing I won’t miss at these dinners are the chicken feet, various innards of animals, dishes of grubs/bugs eaten like peanuts and tofu. I’ve also discovered, I really like to eat with 筷子 kuàizi or chopsticks.

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Grubs
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Chicken Feet

I’m not sure I will be able to eat Chinese food in America when I return.  Chinese food in China is nothing like what we know.  They have an amazing way with seasonings and sauces that I only hope to be able to duplicate in a few dishes.  Other than missing the food in general, I am going to miss 面条 miàntiáo or noodles, but more specifically 兰州拉面 Lánzhōu lāmiàn.  I love almost all the noodle dishes in China, but I will miss the Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles the most.  I’m not sure I will be able to master hand pulling, but I do have a pretty good idea how to reproduce the broth. Which reminds me, Chinese soup spoons are the best.  With the little hooked end, they don’t slip into the soup bowl.  I need to bring some back with me.

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My Noodle Guy

 

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My Favorite Noodles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of food, which by the way is incredibly cheap and delicious…..Chinese home delivery.  There really is no reason to cook if you don’t want to. Simply pull up one of these apps you have installed on your phone;  美团外买 měi tuán wài mǎi or beautiful food buy outside and éle me饿了么 or are you hungry?.  Then choose from hundreds (seriously even in my small town) of restaurants, pick your dish(es) and in 30 minutes your food arrives and remember “no tipping”.  I will miss that too.  I did feel bad that one time I didn’t realize the elevators in my building weren’t working and I live on the 24th floor.  I ordered a 肉夹馍 ròu jiā mó or a Chinese hamburger, which really translates to meat folder.  It is shredded meat, often mutton or pork stuffed in a pita-like bread with hot peppers.  This I will miss but think I can make it at home.  I often order 2, because at a buck each they make a nice breakfast sandwich when you add an egg.  So, back to the day, my elevators were not working and I ordered $3.00 worth of food (2 Chinese hamburgers and a water).  The delivery guy knocked on my door, out of breath and in a complete sweat.  He had come up 24 floors or 48 flights to bring me my food.  I felt bad and he refused a tip.  I am going to miss the convenience and low cost of Chinese home delivery.

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肉夹馍 ròu jiā mó

One of the first things I recommend someone coming to China do is download 微信 Wēixìn (pronounced like we-she) or WeChat.  China’s answer to Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Paypal (but better) social media app rolled into one.  Named by Forbes as one of the most powerful apps in the world.  Post pictures, links, message or call your friends and so much more.  What I love best, is it is linked to your bank account and is used to pay for everything everywhere.  Just scan a QR code at the supermarket, restaurant, taxicab, massage shop, noodle shop, post office, Taobao, wài mǎi, even the little old lady on the street selling mandarins from a wagon can be paid by WeChat.  Most everyone in China pays for goods and services with WeChat.  I rarely see cash or credit cards being used, although I always carry both.  I just haven’t quite got comfortable with carrying no cash.  Funny story….I was at China Post shipping one of many boxes back to the states.  There are a few things at the post office for which you must use cash.  The Chinese gentleman in front of me needed 20-yuan cash or a little less than $3.  He spoke to my friend Alice who I took along as my translator.  He asked her if I had 20 yuan (I did) because foreigners always carry cash.  He would pay me back by WeChat.  I handed over a 20 and he scanned my QR code and 20 yuan appeared in my WeChat wallet.  China, I will miss the convenience of WeChat.

 

 

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My WeChat QR Code

Ok, we have Amazon and a few others in the states, but nothing can compare to Taobao, China’s online shopping website.  From crazy to quirky and everything in between, if it exists in the world you can buy it on Taobao and usually pretty cheap…….“made in China” after all.  You’re a farmer and need a castrating tool….Taobao!  Enjoy eating goat brains…Taobao!  Need a live peacock…Taobao!  Missing cheese, because there’s no cheese in China?  Taobao!  Although I have learned not to purchase cheese on Taobao in warm weather, it comes packed in dry ice and styrofoam, but by the time it arrives in my rural village, it’s a melted lump.  Other than food and a few necessities, I buy/have bought most everything on Taobao, including toilet paper, mustard (no mustard in China either), coffee, small appliances, sheets, Beefeaters gin, my cell phone, etc. You get the picture.  Taobao you will be missed.

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Castrating Tool
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Goat Brains

 

 

 

 

Since I mentioned toilet paper, no matter how healthy or so-called natural it is to poop while squatting, I don’t think I will miss the beloved “squatty potty”.  That and the fact that you almost always need to have your own TP or tissue.  Picture this…..there you are in a squat, reaching for TP, none is provided and you forgot to get yours out. Bad knees, balancing a squat, trying to keep your pant legs and crotch out of the way while you look in your purse for tissue…..NOT FUN!   I understand why so many people wear pants cropped at or above the ankles and they are tight to their legs. Unless you have been squatting your entire life, when you’re 50 something with bad knees and then a broken back, squatting isn’t the easiest way to go, haha.  I can and I have for 5 months when I lived in Hunan Province, but if I’m honest I really won’t miss it.

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Squatty Potty,  I chose one of the worst ones I had.  This on an overnight train.  Imagine using this on a moving rickety train.

Most everyone has heard stories of pollution in China.  Until you have experienced an AQI (air quality index) of over 400 and can’t see the building behind you, you have no idea what air pollution is.  In northern China, pollution is usually the worst during the winter months.  This is because in some areas, mainly rural/countryside, coal is still burned for heating purposes. That along with multitudes of factories, car emissions and even the occasional sandstorm blowing through from the Gobi Desert contribute to the pollution problem.  I usually wear a mask if the AQI goes above 150, which is often in the winter.  China is doing a lot to “fix” their pollution problem, but I’m afraid clean air in China is a way off.  I won’t be missing the pollution.

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A Bad AQI Day

I seem to be getting a bit long winded here so just a few more things I will miss:

High-speed trains, but not the crowds, especially during a Chinese holiday

My once or twice a week $5 per hour massages

Chinglish/lost in translation

Street Food

The variety of unique fruits and vegetables some I never saw until I came to China/SE Asia

The low cost of most goods and services (I’m sure I will have sticker shock back in the USA)

Cushy work schedule

Baijiu, although a few mornings after a night of baijiu, I’m pretty sure I said I never wanted to see it again.

Hot Pot

The beauty of the country….I have been blessed to have travelled a good deal in my 4 years.  There is a beauty in the culture and the land that will always stay with you.

There are a few more things I won’t miss but aren’t worth mentioning unless you have experienced them and China is way more than those things.

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My Massage Shop
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Less than $1 for these mandarins

Here’s where I could get weepy.  More than anything, Chinese hospitality is beyond amazing.  Yes, I know Chinese people get a bad wrap in many foreign countries as being rude, loud and pushing their way to the front, etc.  I too have witnessed this, but since living in a country of 1.4 billion people, I have a better understanding of why this is.  I’m not going to defend it, just that I understand.  For the most part, you will find that the Chinese people welcome you with open arms.  Once they get over their initial curiosity you will soon be part of the family.  More than anything, it’s the people I have met along my journey that I will miss the most.  Those crazy kids I spent 2 weeks with in Beijing, Alina, my go-to person in Xiashan, James Allen from Xiashan who took his English name because of LeBron, Summer, my guide in Harbin, Yulia my roommate, Rabbin and his family in Changning, Paul, Skenny, Erwin, Erin, Jon, Sallen, Hety, Doris, CiCi and all the other staff at Champa Flower Kindergarten in Qingdao, my sweet Marlon and his mom in Qingdao, Amy and Harrison in Weifang who shared Christmas with me, Peter, Peter’s cousin and his wife, Phoenix, Alice and too many to name from my life in Dong’e.  I can’t begin to explain how each has made a mark on my heart and soul or begin to mention all the heart hits China will leave me with.  And what about all my students, the 1000’s of kids I have taught.  Those smiling faces will be missed, oh so much!

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”  Maya Angelou

There may not be any cheese in China, but I discovered more than enough wonderful people and things in this country to make up for it.  Thank you, and much love to everyone who has shared my journey.

My Cheese download (1)

Some Chinglish aka Lost in Translation