Why I Will Not Be Visiting China Again Anytime Soon

Photo: Jingshan Park at Sunset / Beijing, China / April 2, 2017

This was originally a long Facebook post I wrote at Incheon airport in South Korea on April 24th. 

Beijing > Seoul Layover > Brisbane

Currently: Seoul

I have never been more glad to leave a city or a country in general. I loved my short time in Shanghai at the end of last year, but with the end of this trip, I’ve come to the conclusion that China is just not my cup of tea. For every beautiful thing or person we encountered, there were a thousand more not-so-beautiful things or people. Every amazing experience we had was coupled with some nasty incident or treatment by the locals. Perhaps we were just extremely unlucky, but this trip has been very trying in more ways than one and I’m exhausted now. From the very moment I stepped into the airport at Brisbane and tripped face-first, some seriously stupid things just kept happening, things that normally just wouldn’t happen. The bad luck just kept on coming. Taiwan was a joy ride, Mongolia was life-changing, but China just brought out the mean in me. We were getting scammed and cheated left and right and if it weren’t for the thick skin my mother gave me, we would have basically been food for the wolves.

Some awesome experiences (China):
– Hiking the wild unrestored part of the Great Wall and having it entirely to ourselves
– Climbing Mount Huashan and doing the Plank Walk of Death
– Meeting our Couchsurfing hosts – One was a filmmaker, one was a painter, and one was a journalist … Incredible people with incredible stories
– Biking the Xi’an City Wall and eating yummy street foods at the Muslim Quarter

Some not-so-awesome experiences:
– Missing my flight from Beijing to Taiwan. My taxi dropped me off at the wrong terminal and no one would help direct me to the correct terminal even though I asked a million different people. I paid $400 for the next flight and had to sleep at the airport that night while my mom waited for me in Taiwan.
– Matt getting locked inside a taxi BY THE TAXI DRIVER when I refused to pay x5 the normal rate. I didn’t hesitate to get out and slam the door on the driver-scammer-thief but the hubby wasn’t so quick …
– Breaking 2 out of 3 lenses I brought with me … One rolled off the bed and one rolled out of a taxi (LOL seriously). I’ve travelled with my DSLR and lenses for years with no issues … until this trip. My lenses are my babies and it was super devastating. This was after my SD card self-corrupted at the end of my week in Taiwan.
– Having my personal space invaded on an overnight train by the person sitting across from me … A person who appeared to have very poor hygiene kept propping her feet up on my seat. I kicked her off multiple times, but she never got the hint. She even grunted and cursed a few times. Thus, I spent 10 hours with dirty and smelly feet in my face.
– Getting harassed and then called an “ugly stupid bitch” after politely refusing to eat at a restaurant
– Squat toilets. Enough said. After Mongolia and China, I will forever feel blessed when sitting on my normal western toilet at home.
– The Chinese general population’s lack of basic manners or courtesy … Eat or be eaten sort of stuff. Pushing and shoving is commonplace and we got stared at constantly. It didn’t help to stare back. They really had no shame in their stare game.

There’s honestly so much more I could write but it’s all small petty stuff that’s not even worth mentioning … It still really brought down the whole mood of the trip though. I was going to go to China again in November, but I think I might opt for Cambodia instead … China in small doses!

At the end of the day, I’m glad I got to experience another country and culture in its full glory, but this trip has shown me just how lucky and privileged I am just for having been born in the US of A/living in Australia. And before anyone gets on my case about cultural differences—I’m part Chinese. Let’s also not be that person who has to invalidate another’s (miserable) experiences.

Brisbane, here we come!

Quick Live Post – Why You Should Visit Taipei/Taiwan

Photo: Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall / Taipei, Taiwan / April 5, 2017

So I missed my train to Taipei from Zhongli (where my Couchsurfing host lives) and thought I should write a quick post while I wait for the next train …

Reasons to Visit Taipei:

1. The food is extremely cheap AND good. Less than 20 cents USD per dumpling?! YES, PLEASE!

2. Transport is also extremely cheap and convenient, with many attractions having their own stations. It costs less than or about $1 USD per ride to go anywhere within Taipei City. Taxis are also very affordable!

3. Some of the locals are super nice. When I hiked all the way up to Elephant Mountain for the view of the Taipei 101 and realised I (very stupidly) forgot to prep water and snacks, a local offered me her water and banana after taking some photos for me.

4. Taipei is very tourist-friendly, with tourist information and signs in most of the popular areas of the city. A great city for both the seasoned and the not-so-seasoned traveller.

5. You can do nature AND city together in one day with Yangmingshan National Park only about a 30 to 45 minute drive away from the city. From the top of the national park, you can see all of Taipei.

6. Taiwan is full of interesting history. It may be a relatively young country, but it has been ruled by the Japanese, Portuguese, etc. and the birth of the country itself has a very interesting history. Hint: Visit the Sun Yat Sen Memorial.

I just got on my train so this is all I have for now, but if you have yet to visit this super underrated Asian country, it’s probably time to put it on your list. 😉

“My Love For You Is…” – A Book of International Love

Hellooo 2017!

I know it has been AGES since I last posted on here; truth is, I got a tad bit tired and uninspired toward the end of 2017. I’m happy to say, however, that the coming of Valentine’s Day got my creative juices flowing again …

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One morning about two weeks ago, whilst I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, a lightbulb went off in my head. Without hesitation, I began reaching out to a bunch of my international friends and asked each person to write a sign and take a picture. The whole thing definitely wasn’t an original idea, but I put my own twist on what I saw on Facebook by assigning specific adjectives to each person, and it really turned out extra-special.

After messaging friends day and night and staying up till 3 AM some days (darn time zones!!!), Here are several of my favourite photos I received:

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“FAR-REACHING” by Ingrid Van Der Walt
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“GRANDIOSE” By Mylene Monrose
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“INTENSE” by Karthik Urs
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“BOUNDLESS” by Cindy Au

At the end of the day, I wanted this project to be about more than travel/me/Matt; I wanted to convey the message that, despite all our differences and all the craziness happening in the world, we are still all connected by one universal language: LOVE

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien

To all the amazing people who made this project possible: THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. I am so proud to know so many wonderful people from all corners of the world and am so happy that technology allows us to easily keep in touch.

So here’s to LOVE and the celebration of all things that bring us together as one incredible human race …

Hope you all had a beautiful, eventful, SPECTACULAR Valentine’s Day!

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“FAITHFUL” by Susannah Wong

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The sign I presented Matt in real life …

30 Days Countdown to South Korea: I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

Photo: Swiss Alps, Switzerland | October 2015

One day, several months ago, I woke up and spontaneously decided that I wanted to go to South Korea for Christmas. The thought of doing another hot Christmas here in sunny Queensland, Australia was more than unappealing. I always said that once I moved to Australia, I was going to “conquer Asia”, and South Korea happens to be the only country in Southeast/East Asia that OFFICIALLY recognises Christmas as a national holiday. It was a no-brainer.

“BUT MATT!!! PLEEEEEEEEEEASE!!!”

I begged the hubby for a couple weeks before he finally gave in. But of course, as with all things up until this point, it is never MY opinion that eventually sways him. It turns out he had a chat with some bloke at work who had gone to South Korea a few years back and told him that he should definitely go … because South Korea is awesome.

I don’t know much about South Korea compared to most other Asian countries, if I’m honest. I’m an avid watcher of Korean dramas that are set in both modern and ancient times, but I don’t trust dramas to give me accurate representations. Growing up, I lived alongside Koreans in Little Seoul in Southern California and always just thought Koreans were just another breed of Japanese. I view South Korea and Japan as being very similar, the way Vietnam and Laos or Cambodia are similar in ways. I do realise that’s pretty ignorant of me to say, especially because I’m actually Vietnamese and know that Laos and Cambodia are, in fact, VERY different from Vietnam. However, that just means I’m even more excited for this trip because it’ll allow me to form a proper opinion, having already been to Japan.

When I was about 12 or 13, I became good friends with a Korean girl named Sue Park. That part of my life is a bit of a blur now, but I remember that one day, she randomly packed up and moved back to South Korea with her family. At the time, I just remember thinking, “How can anyone possibly live anywhere other than the great United States of America?! How will she survive?!” I just couldn’t imagine life outside of the US of A and actually felt horrified thinking about it. It’s funny looking back, especially because I have now lived in Australia for over a year now. Oh, those were the days.

I still keep in contact with Sue on Facebook. When I booked my trip to South Korea several months ago, I messaged her and suggested that we meet up. We started talking about how much she misses Southern California weather, especially during South Korea’s winters. I thought about how ironic it is that I’m practically dying to throwing myself into that cold South Korean weather this Christmas. I’m a bit terrified at the thought of -10 celsius temps because I’ve never been able to handle cold weather very well, but I still can’t wait.

I’m definitely dreaming of a White Christmas.

 

Vietnam, My Mother’s Que Huong

Photo: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam | October 2016

It’s hard to believe it has already been over a month since Matthew and I first stepped foot on Vietnamese soil. I would have tried to write about our experiences much earlier on, but I decided that “I could not both live and utter it” (Henry David Thoreau). I was much too immersed in the beautiful landscapes and delicious foods to even think about writing during the short time we were there.

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Da Nang was simply goooorgeous!

I don’t even know where to start. Vietnam was absolutely amazing. I still don’t have the words to adequately describe how it felt, as a city girl, to hear the echoes of roosters crowing from all directions at the break of dawn as we rode down countryside pebble roads, surrounded by giant limestone mountains. Or how it felt to crawl through extremely cramped underground tunnels that were once used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. In just 12 short days, I arrived at a deeper understanding of all the Vietnamese customs and traditions I grew up with; I fell in love with my mother’s que huong, or homeland.

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Goat at Ninh Binh Valley Homestay

Our trip began in the north, in the capital city of Hanoi. Upon arrival, I was informed that the tourist visa for American citizens was no longer 25 USD, but 135 USD! I had only budgeted an extra 400 USD for spending, so I felt it right in the gut as I proceeded to pay the lady behind the counter. It was a pretty bleak start to our entire holiday as I felt as though I had just been scammed. But as our taxi drove us closer and closer to the city, the excitement of seeing more and more motorbikes gradually took away my frustration. “Now THIS is Vietnam,” I thought.

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Motorbikes Galore in Saigon

The main highlights of our trip included night walks around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, waking up to the sunrise on Ha Long Bay, meeting up with my mom and sister in Saigon, visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta, taking the Hai Van Pass from Da Nang to Hue, riding bikes in the ancient town of Hoi An and staying in the Ninh Binh countryside in a bungalow right on the river. Every single day was jam-packed with adventure. We’d wake up before or shortly after sunrise and not get back to our accommodation until late at night. We travelled from north, to south, to central, and back up to the north again before heading back to Australia.

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Sunrise on Ha Long Bay
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Mom & Sister flew in from Los Angeles to meet me in Vietnam!

In the end, the only thing I didn’t really like about Vietnam was the prevalence of propaganda, even 40 years after the war. As an American, it was so utterly confronting. I had only ever learned of the symbolism of the hammer and sickle in history books, and my mind, it was only ever associated with Soviet Russia, so seeing the hammer and the sickle on red flags everywhere was a bit like something out of a nightmare.

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Hammer & sickle flags lined the streets of Saigon.

My mother left Vietnam as a war refugee to the United States in 1985 and is now a United States citizen. Being with her in Vietnam last month made me realise that her homeland is now almost completely foreign to her. It holds the fond memories of eating frozen bananas filled with shredded coconut after school, ditching classes to hide out at the temple with her best friends (whilst still graduating at the top of her class) and learning how to playing guitar. But it also holds the pains and hardships of having to run from the threat of war bombs and having her eldest brother die as a war prisoner.

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When you see it… 

It is no doubt that the images of Vietnam will stick with me for a lifetime. I’ve been to nearly 20 countries now, but my experiences in Vietnam blow even the Swiss countryside and charming Venice canals out of the water. Beautiful scenery and unforgettable adventures aside, though, there was nothing that moved me more than when I saw my mother cry at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. “They’re only telling one side of the story,” she said.

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Sculpture made of bomb fragments from the Vietnam War

As we left Vietnam, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had fallen in love with my mother’s que huong as she knew it, or if that’s a place which can now only be truly accessed through the depths of her memory banks.

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Inside the Cu Chi Tunnels …

My First Australia-versary: The Things I Miss About the USA

Photo: Independence Day Barbecue | Orange County, California, USA | July 4, 2015

Everyday I’m thankful that I married a citizen of Australia and not a citizen of a lesser-developed country. It’s not that developing countries aren’t wonderful in their own ways; I just happen to be a spoilt citizen of the Great United States of America who sees Australia as the next best thing. As Americans, we are so much more privileged than citizens of so many other countries around the world. Having a United States passport is like owning a key that unlocks doors to the other 95% of the world. Having an Australian passport is the same.

When I first began traveling to Australia in 2012, I hardly experienced any culture shock because I found Australia to be similar to the USA in so many ways. It wasn’t until after I moved to Australia that I realised the two countries are vastly different. Then, earlier today, it dawned on me: As much as I love living here, I will always miss certain things about living in the United States. For one, I so very much miss having pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread every October. I mean, for pumpkin’s sake … What is this savory pumpkin business?!

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Ok, ACTUALLY … I can still get pumpkin pie every October at Costco. PHEW!

Here are the 5 things I miss most about living in the USA (more specifically, Southern California):

  1. “Normal” Seasons & Mild Summers
    Let me just quickly rant about Australia’s opposite seasons. I am actually upset that the trees outside aren’t currently bursting in brilliant autumn colours (they don’t during actual autumn here either), the fact that things are about to get scorching HOT come December and the fact that that heat is going to last all the way until April … So instead of having April showers and May flowers, we’re going to have April heat and May sleet (May here marks the beginning of winter). And sleet isn’t even really the appropriate word in this case—Brisbane’s winter isn’t even really winter because it rarely drops below 10C/50F and lasts all of about three weeks. Ok, I’ll admit, Southern California’s winter is actually quite similar, but at least the chill comes in at the “right” time of year … I also choke during Queensland’s hot, humid, rainy and cloudy tropical summers because I grew up Southern California where we rarely get humidity, where the summers are dry, sunny and mild. I’ll give Brisbane this, though: It’s spring right now and the jacarandas are in full bloom. It’s just like back home, just at the “wrong” time. Booooo.

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    Seriously … MAY FLOWERS! 2015
  2. Holiday Festivities
    Speaking of opposite seasons … I’ve been pretty bitter that the trees aren’t setting the mood for what is supposed to be classic Halloween atmosphere … Their leaves are “supposed” to be red, orange and yellow, and brown leaves are supposed to litter the ground everywhere and be picked up by the occasional swirling wind … And every other house and shop is supposed to be decked out in pumpkins and spiders webs and the adults are supposed to have wild dress-up parties. Welp, not here! When October comes in America, you just FEEL the spirit of Halloween. In Australia, they try … but it’s just not the same. Have I mentioned that Christmas is in SUMMER?!?! No matter how hard I try, I have yet to be able to overlook a Christmas where everyone wears thongs (flip flops)! Going to the beach or the pool on a hot day should be reserved for June through August, but here, it’s what a lot of Aussies like to do on Christmas Day. I also can’t tell you how much I missed Thanksgiving with my family or how much I missed hearing and seeing fireworks going off all night right outside my window during Independence Day this year, but … blah.

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    Autumn Leaves, Washington DC, November 2012
  3. Everyday American Friendliness
    Australians … aren’t exactly the friendliest bunch. Not in the same way Americans are, anyway. I don’t want to offend any of my lovely Aussie friends, but I speak from personal experience. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing? Because in America, even though we certainly can be stupidly passionate and rude and sue everyone over trivial things, we also know our neighbours’ names. We make small talk with the guy next to us in line at the shops, help and compliment randoms or say “excuse me” when we need to get something off the shelf and someone is in our way. Since moving here, I can’t tell you how many times someone has just bumped straight into me or give me a really dirty look instead of simply saying “excuse me.” I just don’t understand it. I don’t mean to generalise and it’s hard to explain, but I can you that my expat friends from the US know exactly what I mean when I tell them that some Australians can be a bit unfriendly and closed off unless they actually know you.
  4. The Foodie Scene
    I can’t say this for Australia as a whole, but Brisbane absolutely lacks a creative foodie scene. In Southern California, one can base an entire mini road trip from Los Angeles to San Diego just to try the newest crazy dessert idea. I have yet to really find anything like that here. I have friends who have lived in Brisbane all their lives who claim the food here is great, but I feel it’s more on the mediocre side (yes, I’m a spoilt brat). Brisbane definitely has some hidden gems in terms of specialty cafes and such, and there are some great restaurants scattered about, but as a whole, it doesn’t have that same foodie SOUL … It really doesn’t.

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    The only restaurant I liked outside of the city … and it shut down. 😦 Red Lantern, Strathpine
  5. 24-Hour or Late-Night Shops
    When I first moved to Australia, learning that the bank wasn’t open on the weekend or that the grocery store wasn’t open until 10 PM or later everyday DEVASTATED ME. I got over it pretty quickly, but I still miss those late-night runs for random stuff and 24-hour Walmarts. But many Australians are familiar with one thing that Americans are not, and that is work-life balance. After I realised that, I was okay with rushing to the grocery store at 4 PM on a Saturday evening before closing time. It’s nice that people here get paid properly and don’t have to work 60 or 80 hours a week to make ends meet. It’s actually how I can afford to travel!

With all this being said, I really do love living in Australia! I just had a difficult time adjusting to the weather (still adjusting…), the brands, the foods – You name it! It was all so foreign to me. Thank goodness I moved to Australia and not India or Thailand or somewhere else though … or I would have probably just given up and moved back to the States. I basically cried myself to sleep every other night for the first few months, but I eventually adjusted. I actually adjusted so well that when I came back to the States to visit family, I experienced what can only be described as reverse culture shock. Australia is now home sweet home, even though I miss my pumpkin bread and my “normal” seasons dearly.

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I tried to make pumpkin bread when I first moved here, but it just wasn’t the same.

In about 4 years, I’ll hopefully be a dual citizen, but deep down, I will always be a loud and proud American. They always say Australians can drink, but I really believe it’s my Americans who know how to party and have a good time.

During this past year, I must say I’ve missed that crazy American spirit more than anything else.

Back to Real Life

Photo: Lake Samsonvale, Brisbane, Australia | June 2012

The last three weeks of traveling through Asia have left me with aching shoulders and an immobile neck … and lots and lots of photos to go through!

It was an absolutely amazing three weeks, but I’m quite worn out now and am just starting to recovering from it all. I have so much I want to write about, but I’m going to just give myself the next few days to continue to take it easy. I had a sore throat throughout much of my trip and started getting minor fevers as soon as I got home, but I’m happy to say I didn’t experience any food poisoning (it was a genuine concern pre-trip)!

As much as I love traveling, I can’t imagine being away for more than a month at a time. I need to be back in the comfort and security of my own home and be with things and spaces that feel familiar. Knowing that I have a home to come back to at the end of a trip is what keeps me pushing on when exhaustion kicks in or when plans fall out.

It’s back to real life for another 8 weeks, and then we’ll be off again to South Korea (excited!!!) …

But real life never felt so good.