Sunday, March 25, 2012

Angkor Wat- Siem Reap, Cambodia

Cambodia was such a cool country to visit.  My mom came with me and stayed for a few nights before heading back to the states. Unfortunately she got really really sick towards the end of her visit and had to have a doctor come see her in the guesthouse! Coming home from Angkor Wat to find my mom hooked up to an IV was more than traumatic but at least she’s healed up now and still says she had a good time with me.

 I was only in Cambodia for around nine days and each day was filled with temple visits and classes but I still had time to shop at the night market and visit the landmine museum (it was a really interesting and informative visit- you should research landmines, it is still a very serious problem but with donations we could become a landmine free world!!!). Academically, one of my favorite professors from UPS came out to Cambodia to teach us while we were there. I was really glad I got to take one more class from him before graduating. 

It is hard to explain the majesty that is Angkor Wat. Some temples have trees growing out from them, others have monkeys trolling around- they just seem so magical. Something that is so old yet still so preserved. My favorite part was looking at the bas reliefs at the main Angkor Wat temple, we had been studying them for class but seeing them first hand was incredible. The detail and craftsmanship was amazing.  On another field trip we hiked up to a river with a thousand lingas- Lingas are a symbol for the Hindu God Shiva- they can help with fertility and such things they look like an erect penis. If I had to count how many times I’ve touched or been near an object that is supposed to help with fertility and baby making throughout my time in Asia it would be like 10!!! All I’m saying is that I’m probably pretty darn fertile now so watch out world! 

One of the coolest things we did in Cambodia was go to a private traditional Cambodian shadow puppet show. It was so cool!!! They performed an excerpt from the Ramayana (extremely famous Indian story) we studied the story in my Art History class. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was outside and it had candles on the ground leading you all the way down to a huge white screen that had a rower fire behind it. We sat on the ground with the band right next to us. The shadow puppets were really big and the guys danced all around with them. Afterwards we got to try for ourselves- they were really heavy. Also as a treat we made smores using the shadow puppet fire in the back- it was slightly dangerous but delicious. 

Cambodia is definitely on my list of countries that I would like to return to but up next was INDIA!!!! A dream come true- I’ve wanted to go there since I was a little girl. Stayed tuned for my adventures from India! 

Oh yes, while in Cambodia I got a foot treatment where you stick your feet in a tank with fish that eat off your dead skin- it was terrifying!!!


Thursday, March 8, 2012

La la la la Laos

My mom and I arrived in Laos and my mom was instantly in love. I thought Laos was beautiful and kept hearing that Laos is like what Thailand used to be ten years ago. For some reason while I was in Laos I felt more self-conscious about being a tourist. It was an interesting time for me but I still had a really fun time with my mom. Here are some stories from our time in Laos. 


My mom had a very interesting proposition one day while exploring the village across the bridge. She and I had been sitting watching the sunset, drinking beerlao (our new and favorite beer) when she was approached by an older gentleman. She and I were about to leave and cross back over the bridge to find some dinner when this older man comes over and asks if I am her daughter. My mom says “Yes, this is my daughter.” The old man smiles and then asks “Would you like a son?” My mom and I looked at each other not quite understanding the question. He continued, “Yeah, a son for a daughter?” It dawned on us that this old man was on the prowl. He explains that his son would make a great husband and can speak four different languages. He smiled a toothless smile and put his arm around saying “daughter!” He then looks at my mom and says that if she brings me back here tomorrow morning that he’ll pay the bridge toll so that I can cross and meet my future husband. We told him that we had to think about it. Believe it or not we never did make it back to the bridge the next day and I can’t help but think, what if?

Paper Making Village


While in Laos my mom and I did some good, wholesome elephant tourism (yes I am being facetious- I took a whole class on animal tourism and the ethics behind it, so I’m aware of the questionability of paying money to ride a wild animal but it was still super fun).  Besides the many memories and the lingering smell of elephant, my mom and I were also left with over 200 horrible photos of us riding the elephant. Now when I say bad photos, I mean BAD photos. Out of the 200 only 10 were useable for facebook profile pics or for a frame later. The nice lad who carried our cameras and followed us around to capture all the excitement of the elephant riding had extremely good timing for snapping a shot every time I made a face or my mom blinked. It was an uncanny ability that he had. Half way through our ride I was invited to leave the safety of the enclosed bench atop the elephant and slide down to straddle the elephant’s neck. I gently placed my legs behind her ears and she not so gently slapped her ears against my legs, she continued to do this the rest of the ride, I liked to think of it as her high five of friendship. By the end my mother and I felt fully communed with the elephant and my mom told me it brought back memories from her circus days. Need I say more?!

A decent elephant photo

A romantic sunset cruise was one of our last mother-daughter activities in Laos. It was just her and I and our very own boat driver. He took us down the Mekong River and on the way back we watched the sunset. The waves were hypnotic and the sun was warm against our faces. It was so romantic that we even held hands a little bit. My mom and I finished our time in Laos by shopping to our hearts content at the night market.

Romantic sunset cruise

Below you can see us in our matching Beerlao t-shirts (perhaps my most favorite purchase!)  and yes we wore these at the same time and totally looked like awesome tourist- our coolness is indescribable.

Beerlao for life!


Friday, March 2, 2012

The Land of Modern Merry Monks: Thailand

After our few nights in Hong Kong my mom and I made our way to Bangkok, Thailand to begin our winter vacation! We spent three nights in Bangkok and enjoyed our very first away from home Christmas there. It was a low key affair exemplified by our use of a chair as our Christmas tree. But my mom surprised me by bringing my very special (had it my whole life) Christmas stocking all the way from home to Thailand. And to top it off it was stuffed full of goodies! We explored the city the next day and ventured to the train station. We spent a few hours in an internet cafĂ© skyping home to my Brothers- they were enjoying Christmas by themselves at my mom’s house. They seemed to be having a good time eating lasagna and only fought over what to watch on TV. Needless to say I missed my brothers and dad on Christmas very much but I was very thankful to have my mom there with me. It was a new adventure and perhaps a new tradition. (Christmas in a new country every year, what do you say mom?!) We went to temples and drank cocktails- overall a fantastic Christmas and stay in Bangkok. Our next move was an overnight train from Bangkok to Chiangmai.

Bangkok, Thailand

Our overnight train was a smooth ride that included an art project (we drew pictures of each other), Zoolander, and a disgusting meal consisting solely of mushrooms (my mom was a cham for eating most of it). We got picked up from the train station and taken to our very sweet guest house which was within the city walls making it super easy to walk everywhere. Now let me say, Chiangmai is awesome- maybe one of my most favorite places that I have been to on this trip. The food is delicious and affordable, the people are sweet and helpful, and there are tons of crafts and goods to buy, and temples upon temples to explore. Although it was a vacation for the both of us we did not do much resting. It seems that we spent most of our days walking to different temples, taking pictures, and stopping to eat. This sounds relaxing and it was but we walked ALL over that city. 

Our self portraits of each other.... I look like a transvestite
One of our favorite stops was at a little temple at the end of a dead-end road. There we met some modern and merry monks. My mom being the friendly gal that she is gave one of the monks a warm smile and said ‘happy new year.’ The monk looked at us and finally said ‘Happy New year, where are you from?’ ‘We are from America,’ we said. The monk continued to sweep the leaves away and we continued to look around. We went inside and sat for a while as we were leaving another monk approached us and started asking us questions. Our conversation soon became a 20 minute talk- it turns out this monk was from Bangladesh and was my age only a few weeks older. He had the sweetest smile : ) After a while this older man joined our conversation and told us that he was good friends with the head Monk and was a teacher at a school nearby. For some reason he seemed to be very taken with me and offered me a job to come teach English at his school. I gave him my information and told him that this was for professional use NOT personal. The Modern Merry monk thought this was very funny. As e-mails were being exchanged my mom and I asked the monk if he had a facebook. He said, ‘Of course!’ I was very surprised by this fact but it turns out A LOT of monks are on facebook. I guess we had been standing there for a long enough period for the head monk to notice so he ordered the younger monks to bring us a drink-it was a little box of soy milk. As we were leaving the head monk gave my mom a little talk about giving up perfection and finding a meditation center. My mom and I think it was a cosmic encounter and still chat with our friendly modern monks on facebook.

We headed back to our guest house to prepare for our New Years Eve celebration. We went home a different way and found a few new cool temples with New Years offerings and one with a loud speaker describing the dharma at top volume. It was all magical and lovely until I got us lost. Oops, I was totally confident that I knew where we were going but alas- I did not. We did eventual make it home and had ourselves a tasty Thai dinner. At this point in our vacation I had become addicted to banana and coconut shakes!!!! SOOOOOO GOOD!!! So to celebrate the New Year I partook in the nectar that is a banana-coconut shake. A few days pervious I found out that one of the girls from my trip, Annin and her family were going to be in Chiangmai for New Years. Annin’s family is from Eugene so we were all excited at the prospect of spending it together- getting together the whole Eugene clan. Sadly, Annin and I had never fully connected and did not make any formal plans. So after our New Years Eve dinner, my mom and I headed back towards our guest house. We were rounding the corner when low and behold there was Annin and her whole family sitting at the bar just two doors down from our guest house! It turns out they had been staying right across the street from us the whole time! We drank cheap drinks, wore silly New Years hat, let off very illegal looking fireworks, and rang in the New Years- Eugene style!

The Eugene Crew

New Year offerings
Another highlight that my mom and I had while in Chiangmai was our all-day Thai cooking Class. I have to give her props because it was all her idea- so good choice mom! It was run through by a sweet couple-a Belgium woman and a Thai man. It was a great set-up, a visit to a local market, a drive through the country, then the rest of the day cooking at their organic farm. Since it was around new years they were very booked up so initially only one us was going to get to cook. As luck would have it someone dropped out and both my mom and I were able to cook delicious Thai food. We were in a special group were there was only seven of us instead of a normal sized class of fifteen. Two of the girls in our class were from the JET program, two ladies were on vacation from China, and our last member was a woman who taught IB art in Malaysia. She invited me to stay with her and family any time I was in Malaysia- a good connection I think so! While on the farm we all wore red aprons and had to wear big straw hats while in the garden. It was pretty funny seeing so many different people all in this same silly uniform. Our cooking teacher/ the owner led us around the garden showing us the different ingredient that grew on their farm- thai basil and lemon grass, just to name a few. We spent the whole day learning to cook; soups, curries, sweet and sour tofu, pad thai, and mango sticky rice. We now each have a cook book full of tasty Thai recipes and I anticipate cooking each recipe this summer!

Next top Chef

I loved Thailand and without a doubt I am coming back. But my mom and I’s vacation was not over, not even close because we were off to Laos!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Christmas Eve in HONG KONG!!!

Hong Kong was my very last stop before I started my winter break. It was a super short visit, only two nights, but it was still memorable. My mom met up with me in Hong Kong so we could spend winter break together! I spent that night wrapping presents, working on the Pac Rim video (I’m on the media group and am in charge of documenting our time aboard), and waiting for her to arrive. At around midnight there was a knock on my door… it was my MOM! It turns out her only checked bag had been lost aka all the Christmas presents and all her clothes were missing and that very next night was the Christmas eve party! We were more than upset, we were devastated. We kept going down to the reception desk of the hotel to call the airport and inquire about her bag- every time we called we just got a busy signal- it was infuriating. We finally sent them a fax with URGENT stamped all over it. We received a call from the baggage claim in less than 15 minutes- who knew faxing actually worked?! We were promised that that bag would arrive the next day, so all we could do was wait. The next day we decided to take our minds off the missing bag by exploring Hong Kong. We began by finding coffee (at McDonalds, don’t judge us), viewing a giant Christmas tree and wondering around the busy streets. After that we went on a ferry boat ride around the different islands of Hong Kong. It was fun and relaxing and just what we needed after the missing bag debacle.

Mama Bear and I

We arrived back at the hotel fully anticipating that my mom’s bag would be there just waiting for us- IT WAS NOT!!! This meant that we had to pull together an outfit for her for the Christmas eve party using only my clothes. Lucky for her I have impeccable taste and have clothes that everyone looks good in. She wore an eloquent tan pants and black shirt combo set off with a splash of color by a purple, green, and blue scarf - she looked fierce. The party had an open bar till 8pm, Christmas songs, and a visit by a Chinese Santa clause- we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  It was really nice getting to introduce my mom to all my new pac rim friends and spending time together. Along with that, it was indeed a Christmas miracle because very early on Christmas morning we received a call telling us they had received my mom's bag and that they were bringing it up! Hooray, and just in time before we left for our flight to Bangkok! That’s right Christmas in Bangkok! You’ll hear more about that soon!

Darling Kariann and I

Double fisting it!

And now here's a link to the video the media crew created to give you a taste of my first semester abroad!  Just click,  Pac Rim Video

xoxo Audrey

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fuzhou, China

After my many adventures in Vietnam I headed to Fuzhou, China. While there I studied and lived at Hwa Nan’s women’s college. We stayed there for a month and really got to experience Chinese dorm life. Us foreign students were in a separate dorm than the Chinese students but we had the same layout except we only had four girls per dorm room instead of 8 girls!!!!!! I was able to visit a Chinese dorm room and it’s like sardines in there, I don’t know how the women stand it. Our academic focus was on Chinese philosophy so we read the Dao De Jing , The Art of War, the Analects of Confucius, and other old Chinese dudes (joking). For our time in China I got to room with the lovely ladies- Veronica, Monica, and Kristi.
Hwa Nan Campus

The college is about 20-30mins outside of the city of Fuzhou so I didn’t go into town too frequently but I did go to old student street, 7 lanes and 3 allys, the Confucian  temple, and of course the mall! Besides that we had a few weekend field trips where we visited Wuyi Mountain and the city of Xiamen. While on these excursions we hiked mountains, floated town rivers in bamboo rafts and I learned to like eggplant! What was really great about our time in China was that we were paired with a Chinese student who was your buddy. I got Joanna and we became besties! She has the same birthday as my mom so we really complemented each other. She understood my sense of humor perfectly, which is amazing! Her English was great and I just had the best time with her. She took me on adventures around town and always was a superstar at ordering me vegetarian food
Joanna and I at dinner

Joanna and I sharing mittens :

Confucian  temple


One of the coolest things we did together was set off Chinese wish lanterns. One time while we were out together we saw a couple setting them off. I thought it was so cool so I told Joanna how it would be awesome if we could do that together. Next time I saw her she had ten lanterns! I got together some peeps from my program and we met up with Joanna and her friends. We then proceeded to head over to the boys college! Did I mention that Hwa Nan is an all women’s college- this was the first time I saw boys my age in days, I was excited! So there was a whole gang of us out on the track field. We each got a lantern and took turns writing our wishes and releasing them to the sky. Joanna wrote on her lantern ‘Audrey and Joanna 4-ever.’ I released a lantern for compassion. I cannot explain just how cool it was, it was probably one of the most magical things I gone. Also this was the night I met Oh Brother… tee hee but more on that later :)

Making a Wish

Releasing it to the world!

Another extremely epic event we had while in China was thanksgiving or what I like to call a day of 21 pies. Since it’s an American tradition us pac-rimmers decided to cook up an epic thanksgiving feast for our hosts at Hwa Nan. We were going to have to feed all the pac-rimmers, all our Chinese buddies, and the entire faculty at the college, that’s over 80 guests!!!! I was on the pie crew and we made over 21 pies!!! Most of which were pumpkin pie- which is my favorite! Some ladies stayed up to 5am to finish cooking the pies. We decorated, cooked, and were on the local news! It turned out really well and I got to eat mashed potatoes with cranberry sauce! 

Now I bet you’re wondering who Oh Brother is….. well he’s my new Chinese Boyfriend. Ha ha, I’m joking, he’s not really my boyfriend but we did walk with linked arms which is a pretty big deal in China. The dating scene in China is totally different than in the US, everything seems to revolve around group dates (which reminds me of the time back when I had a Mormon boyfriend lol!) and very low amounts of public displays of affection. My buddies Monica, Kari, and I got to go on a real Chinese group date. It was a lot of fun and the boys even paid! We ended the night by sneaking into the boys dorm room and having a jam session on a hand-make ukulele and guitar! We generated quite the crowd of Chinese boys :) 

For my research project that I’m forced to do while on this trip I decided to study divination and fortune telling. I’ve now decided to narrow my focus to Vedic astrology but while in China I was able to do Chinese fortune sticks! I went to a temple, I offered incenses, I prayed, introduced myself to the Goddess, and asked my question. After this, I shuffled a jar of sticks three times and picked one stick. Each stick has a number that corresponds to a text that gives insight to your future. I drew stick number 26. I had our tour guide translate for me and give me my fortune! It was a really cool experience and I’m curious to see if it comes true! I'll keep you updated, it said things will become more clear in the spring- and that's right around the corner!!!!

I enjoyed my time at Hwa Nan so much that I have applied to work as an English teacher there next year! I'll find out by the end of this month if I get the position. Well, that was China- I'll leave you with a photo of my cutest new little friend! Her family owned the noodle food booth in the Cafeteria- Kari and I became very good friends with the family :)

xoxo, Audrey