Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Truly Asia: Malaysia

Dearest Followers,
Malaysia was amazing- I flew into Kuching and stayed there for only 4 short days. We stayed at this awesome backpackers hostel that had it's own bar on the rooftop. I might have visited it a few times :)  I started my biodiversity class the second day I arrived in Malaysia- we visited some museums and explored the city a bit, we also met with the World Wild Life Fund- that was pretty interesting hearing about their projects in Borneo. A fun fact about Kuching is that the word means Cat- so I was staying in the city of cats and it was quite fitting because I had never seen so many stray cats in my life. After Kuching we headed to Matang wildlife center a Orangutan rehabilitation center just a few kilometers outside of Kuching.

Sarawak River- Kiching Malaysia
We were greeted at the Matang Wildlife center by this friendly guy- Arman. He is a dominant male orangutan and he would probably kill you if he got the chance. It was amazing being so close to these amazing creatures and getting the chance to work so closely with them. Another fun fact- did you know that Orangutans have around a 97% similarity to a humans genetic make-up? This means that we run a high risk of spending diseases to each other which is why you should never hold a baby orangutan. NEVER!

Arman- A dominant male Orangutan 
My group went to the Matang wildlife center to volunteer for 2 weeks. I stayed in a long house and had two other roommates- which worked out just fine. The accommodations weren't fancy and it was pretty much just like being at summer camp. We had a pretty demanding daily schedule- Breakfast at 7:30am, volunteer/projects from 8:15 to 12:30, Lunch, A one hour break, Class, Dinner, then free time/ homework time. It was pretty grueling so I usually went to bed every night around 9pm. As you may or may not know the island of Borneo is predominantly rain forest and it was amazing being there. I remember going on our first hike and it started raining and it was the first time I really realized why it was called a rain forest. Without any warning it will begin to down pour and there will be thunder and lighting. It was amazingly beautiful. Something else I was surprised to figure out was how freaking hot it is by the equator. Holy crap! I have never sweated more in my whole life- like seriously- I didn't even know you could sweat in some of these places lol. It also didn't help that we were doing a lot of physical labor- which was part of our volunteer work. Everyday I was divided into a group and assigned to work on a certain project. You could either be on construction, wood, maintenance, Orangutans, quarantine, and sun bears. For construction you worked to clean out and build new enclosures for some of their animals there. Wood crew carried lumber into the Jungle because the center is working on building a new ranger station- this was probably the hardest crew. For maintenance I carried gravel up to a feeding area for orangutans-also very hard. Orangutans, quarantine, and sun bears was when we got the chance to work with the animals and do husbandry with them. We got to clean out their cages and feed them. 

The center had more than orangutans and monkeys they also had sun bears, deers, and crocodiles! 

Mr. Crocodile
At the center we worked with Leo and Tasha primarily- they are both from the UK and are dating so they were pretty cute :) Below is Leo during one of our hikes showing us a buttress tree. Fun fact about the buttress tree- if you are ever lost in the Jungle and need to get attention the best thing to do is bang the end of your machete against the buttress trees roots- it will make a loud noise allowing anyone who is looking for you  to locate you quicker! I did a whole project about jungle survival- if you are ever curious! 

Leo with Buttress tree
Veronica and I working hard on construction crew
Veronica and I were on a lot of the same crews and we both thought it was funny because we were the two people with the worst backs- we made it through though- one bag of gravel at a time. Below you can see me doing orangutan husbandry- I'm in the cage cleaning it and I have a little friend to my left. She liked to watch me while I cleaned and whenever my water hose got near her she would stick her hand out and play with the water. You had to be very careful though when you were in the cages because orangutans have very long arms and will grab you if they get the chance. It was really tempting to touch them but I resisted and just looked! 
Me doing orangutan husbandry 
This is a semi-wild orangutan with her baby. She lives around the wildlife center and is still fed by the center but she sleeps outside in the trees. The day I was hauling gravel I got to see her and her baby. It looks like the baby is smiling at me :)
Semi-wild orangutans
We took two field trips while we were staying at Matang. Our first field trip was to Semengoh- which advertises itself as a place to see wild orangutans. It has around 26 "wild" orangutans living in the area- however they are not really wild because they are habituated to humans and are fed by them everyday. It's a big tourist attraction.
"Wild" Orangutans
This is me in my tourist pants at a traditional long house
The second part of our field trip was visiting a traditional long house. Traditionally in Malaysia many different families would live together in one long house. 

Woman weaving in Long house
Sun bear
Above you can see a sun bear- the character winnie the pooh is suppose to be a sun bear- and its true they really do love honey. Our second field trip was an over night stay at Bako National park which is famous for its mischievous macaque monkeys. Seriously they will steal the food or soda can out of your hands- they were a bit scary. While at Bako I went on a few hikes and found this amazing private beach. Emma, Luisa, and I hiked there the first day and went swimming. It was pretty magical until the naked old American man showed up. lol. We went on some night walks and I got to see some beautiful fire flies! I also got to see some "wild" boars and by wild I mean they'll come into your front lawn and fall asleep. 

Taking the boat to Bako!

Macaque monkey with baby
Bako-Private Beach
Bako was a lot of fun even though it wasn't very well kept and the monkeys stalked you. We headed back to Matang and only had a few days left before we left for Mulu National park. On our last night we had a huge going away party and danced up a storm. Below you can see me with my new children and the lovely ladies from the kitchen crew (at least I tried but I couldn't get the photo to upload) They taught us the Malaysian version of the electric slide that night and there might have been a dance off- the Americans won! It was so much fun and I'm very thankful for meeting such amazing people who are extremely dedicated to what they do. 
Me and my child

Me and my other child!
The next day we headed to Mulu National park- where on the first day we hiked through some of the largest caves in the world. We went on a all day hike and swam in a river- we saw lots of cool bugs and saw lots of leeches! Believe it or not I managed to live in the forest for 2 weeks and never got a leech! Some tried but I was too quick for them! 
Mulu National Park
Sadly I forgot the name of this guy but he's still cool
While we were at Mulu we celebrated my 23rd birthday! Here I am at my birthday breakfast! After that I enjoyed a canopy birthday walk, a plant walk, and a night walk! The group was extremely nice to me and I woke up to a group birthday card and a bag full of tasty goodies! 
Birthday Breakfast
Rachael and I before the Birthday Canopy walk
Birthday Canopy Walk
Birthday girl and Buttress tree!
This is the really cool spider that they found on my birthday. At first they thought they had discovered a new species  I suggested that they should name it after me since it was my birthday :) Turns out it already had a name- I still think they could rename it in my honor! 

Don't touch this spider!
After my exciting walks I enjoyed a delicious curry pumpkin soup for dinner. It has been a tradition since I was born to have a pumpkin pie every year for my birthday. I didn't have a pie but I was so excited to find the pumpkin soup and keep the tradition alive! The group got me a tasty piece of chocolate cake and make a group cake out of cookies. 

Birthday cake!
My lovey group got me this awesome Malaysian circle dress thing! You can make it into a skirt, a dress, even a shirt- it is beautiful! After cake and presents we had a movie night and watched the Audrey Hepburn film Sabrina. It was a lovely birthday and I felt very loved by my group :)

Birthday girl in birthday dress!
We only stayed in Mulu for 4 days then flew to Kota Kinabalu where we stayed for another 4 days. In Kota us ladies got to stay in a very fancy hotel which was so nice after spending weeks in the jungle. Getting my clothes actually washed like in a real washing machine was the best thing EVER!!! While in Kota we presented group projects and explored the city a bit- I of course found the market and did some shopping :) On one of our days there we went snorkeling. I saw so many amazing colored fish, drank fresh coconut juice with Annin, and avoided the sun- (the malaria medication I'm on makes my skin super sensitive to the sun.) It was an awesome day.  

Island where we went snorkeling 

Kari and I on our way!
Malaysia has been one of my most favorite country's so far. It was super easy to get vegetarian food, the people were so friendly (even the guys hitting on you were nice-my favorite pick-up line is  "Hey Girl") it was fun to explore, and just amazing. I can definitely see myself coming back here. The jungle was hard at times and the volunteer work was really challenging physically but the people and food were so amazing that I couldn't help but fall in love a little. And with that I leave you with little Dillion the cutest little monkey ever who nearly jumped on me and petted my arm a little bit while I was working in quarantine :)


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ni Hao Ma

As promised- Chinese Adventures!

After Mongolia I spent a week in China. Our first two days were spent in Bejing- we visited the Ming Tombs, the Great Wall of China, and the Forbidden City. My personal favorite was the Great Wall of China- I cannot even describe it to you. I hiked all the way up to the point where tourists are no longer able to hike any further aka I’m a bad ass. At one point you have to hike up a vertical staircase. It was a workout but sooooo worth it. After Bejing we headed to Xian where we saw the Terra cotta soldiers. We didn’t do much other than that- I got eaten alive by fleas in my hotel room. I have over 60 bites, personally I would like to sue the hotel. Just so you have a mental picture I had to walk around china the rest of the time looking like I had the chicken pox. It sucked. After Xian we went to Shanghai which is a fancier version of New York City. I spent the day shopping. One of my highlights of China was the silk market- haggle city!!! Let me tell you- things were bought! China was fun- I’ll be heading back there in two months. Right now I’m in a topical place and I absolutely LOVE it! Yes, its humid and really hot but the people are so nice and you can get super tasty food for a little more than a dollar. Tomorrow I leave for the Jungle- that’s right the Jungle!  I’ll let you know if I meet a Tarzan ;) 

This is the night market in Bejing- tasty street food

Hiking the Great Wall of China!

Hey Mao- Tia man Square

Wish I could put more pictures up but the internet connection is slow here! Till next time!

Sain Baina Uu

Hello dear followers,

As you may have guessed from my last blog post, I’ve been in Mongolia for the past month! Yes that’s right folks, Mongolia! I will admit I was very culture shocked when I first arrived here, this was my first time being in a developing country so I was exposed to things I haven’t been exposed to before aka public urination, open trash piles (that are burned!), wild dogs, and street kids/ sad homeless drunk men. I’m not saying these things are in direct correlation with being a developing country but it made me realize that I lived in a bubble protecting me against poverty.

History Lesson: Mongolia was occupied by China way back when but they then joined up with Russia to kick them out, however Communist Russia then took the place of China as an occupying power. Mongolia was under Communist rule until the 1990’s (that’s over 70 years of occupation!). During this time Buddhism was banned, there were mass murders, and a whole bunch of repression. The Communist left Mongolia in bankruptcy- so since their independence they have been working to build up infrastructure and have worked hard to reestablish Buddhism. There is a lot of Russian influence still- it’s very interesting here.

Back to the story-
Beside my general shock regarding poverty- at first I was having a hard time finding anything to eat. I could not read the Cyrillic alphabet nor could I speak Mongolian, so ordering food was a hit or miss, usually a miss. I survived on peanut butter and bread for the first few days. Finally I was able to find vegan restaurants- yes vegan restaurants ! They are surprisingly popular here in Mongolia- My favorites are ‘loving hut’ ‘the stupa CafĂ©’ and ‘luna blanca’ to say that  I became a regular would be an understatement- I was eating at one of these places EVERYDAY! It just so happens I met my first Mongolian friend at the loving hut. Her name is Bujing which means baby rabbit in Mongolian. She is 21 and working with the Administration for Financial something a rather for the government. Technically she is an intern because she is not getting paid, but she wants to work hard and hopefully get hired permanently. She was incredibly sweet- she introduced herself to me and told me she was looking to practice her English. I got her digits and told her I’d call her. Later that day I was meeting with one of my good friends from the University of Puget Sound who also just so happened to be in Mongolia with a Watson studying contortion. Miss Jacki Ward and I had many dates in Mongolia- having her here was a wonderful treat. Anywho Jacki and I called Bujing and we met up with her later that week. We discussed politics regarding Chinese and Russian relations with Mongolia, cold mining, and my favorite- DATING!

On the school front I was studying Buddhism the whole time I was in Mongolia. Our classes took place at the Lamrim Monastery just down the road from the very famous Ganden Monastery. We took a lot of field trips to museums, other monasteries, and  had private lectures with a Panchen Otrul Rinpoche, Monks, and Glenn Mullin. Being a part of pacrim allows you to have a great amount of access to amazing resources that you wouldn’t normally. Take for instance how we were personally guided by the Abbot of the Lamrim Monastery through the Mongolian country side. Below is the Lamrim Monastery- where I had class

After a week or two I actually started getting used Ulaanbaatar (the city I was staying in, which is the biggest city in Mongolia. I was even learning how to cross the street, this might seem silly to you but if you haven’t seen Mongolian traffic then you just won’t understand. My professor explained to me that Mongolians have always had a strong affinity with horses- even in the modern age this has not died out and is manifested in the way they drive aka as if they were still on horses. But these aren’t leisurely rides these are straight up horse races! Mongolian drivers want to get their first and in any way. Passing a car into oncoming traffic is the norm, turning when you want, honking your horn is constant- I have never feared more for my life in these cars than ever before. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is almost an invitation for a car to hit you- I may or may not be exaggerating. It’s like the video game frogger, you take it one lane at the time. It’s tricky because you never know if you should go or stop, you honestly never know if the car is going to stop for you or not. I decided to just wait for a Mongolian to cross the street and then I would follow them.

My living situation was compact to say the least. We were staying in a hostel/guest house and there was 10 girls sharing my room (including myself).  Bunk bed on bunk bed- pretty much zero personal space. But somehow we made it work, I did have my doubts at first. There are 25 people total in my group so we pretty much took over the whole place, which did create some problems for our hosts- who did threaten to kick us out at one point. Supposedly this is a common occurrence on pacrim…. Luckily we didn’t get thrown out into the Mongolian streets and finished our stay there on good terms. Health wise I’ve pretty much been sick the whole time I’ve been I Mongolia which honestly has sucked! I’m hoping to get more sleep in the next country because guess what?!- I’ll only have ONE roommate!!!! This is a very big deal!

We had three big excursions during our time in Mongolia- the country side, terelj, and the Gobi desert. For our first trip we took a deluxe tour bus and drove out into the Mongolian countryside. We had a personal cooking crew that went ahead of us to prepare food in their van so we could enjoy lunch while on the road. I was always surprised when we were able to find them just off on the side of the road. The Abbot who was guiding us is a vegetarian so I was well fed on these trips. For our first night we stayed at old man monastery- it was my very first time staying in a traditional ger. It was so incredibly beautiful there and again I was surprised we even made it there- I’m pretty should you could only find the place if you knew where you were going. If I remember correctly this monastery was built for Zanabazar’s teacher. Zanabazar is a very big deal in Mongolia- you should google him if you’re interested. So we spent some nice time at old man monastery, hiking etc. The next day we headed to Hara horum- spelling is questionable- this is a famous ancient city in Mongolia. This trip was the first time I got to ride a camel!!!! I loved it!!! Later on we had lunch at one of the Abbot’s friends ger his whole family was there and other people from the area, they brought all of their horses so we could ride them but first we watched them- let me tell you those Mongolians knew how to ride those horses. When I finally got a turn it quickly became apparent that I do not have those same skills so the Abbot was nice enough to attach my horse to his and he took me on a personal tour. On this trip our tour bus got a flat tire-that was exciting. This is the Ger camp I stayed at while at the Old Man Monastery 

This is the Abbot and I riding our horses :)

And this is the beautiful Stupa at the Old Man Monastery 

Our second trip was to terelj which is right near turtle rock and where the Abbots’ Meditation center is. The meditation center is in the mountains- I cannot tell you enough how beautiful it is in Mongolia. There were Buddha paintings and a divination prayer wheel- you spin it, it lands on a number, and that number corresponds to a scripture which reflects the lesson in life that you need to work on- mine was about laziness. Other highlights of the trip- hiking Turtle rock, exploring during the night time guided by the full moon. Our next big trip was to the Gobi desert, this time our guide was Glen Mullin- he’s this big shot Buddhist expert. He was pretty ridiculous but I did enjoy some vodka with him and  a Mongolian princess on our train ride there. Again we stayed in a ger camp and this time it was freezing! One morning we woke up at 5pm and hiked up a holy mountain to meditate and watch the sun rise. Turns out a whole bunch of wild goats live there, I made some friends. Later that day we went to Shambala which is said to have a portal to enlightenment- I’m pretty sure I saw it but I decided not to jump through because I knew you all would miss these blog posts too much if I did. While at Shambala I poured all my negativity into a rock and threw it away, along with  lay on holy rocks that are used to cure you of any aliment and also soak up your negativity. I think they work. The Gobi is so vast- driving out there is such a trip, you are literally driving out in the middle of nowhere. I made some Mongolian friends at a local park- for some reason little boys liked to call me fat- I’m now sure where they are getting that from because I’ve lost about 5 pounds! Well that’s all for Mongolia- of course there are many other fun little stories, some about rabbies, puppies, kittens, Mongolian pick-up lines, and spiders. But I’ll leave you with that. Stay tuned for some Chinese adventures! Lots of love!

Monday, September 5, 2011

An Nyoung Ha Seh Yo

Have you been wondering were I've been? I bet you have! Well I've been off having wild Asian Adventures (this was an alternative option for my blog name fyi). Well hello from Asia or if we were in South Korea which is where I just was you'd say 'An Nyoung Ha Seh Yo'! If you're a fan of the show Arrested Development you'll understand why I was so excited to constantly get the chance to say 'An Nyoung' while I was there- If you're not familiar with the show forget I said anything. I was only in S. Korea for three nights but somehow I manged to visit North Korea- There I am below pointing to Propaganda city.

A cat cafe- Yes I spent $8 to hang out in a cafe with cats, I did get a free drink though.

I hiked all the way up to the Seoul Tower- Here I am with some ladies from my group- Anna, Monica, and Veronica. This was like the half way point. Keep in mind that this was my first full day in Seoul- and we walked everywhere, I was soooo tired but here we are!

When you reach the top (after like 4 thousand stairs) there are lockets attached to almost all the fences surrounding the tower. There is a long standing tradition where lovers come and make wishes about their love /lover they then add a locket to the fence- there are like thousands of them :) Sadly I didn't have a locket but I still made a wish ;) <3

 I left for my year long adventure on Monday and after 11 hours of flying I arrived Tuesday night in Seoul, South Korea- I had no idea what to expect but when we finally arrived we were informed that the next day would be a free day. "Hmmm" I thought, A whole free day in a country I've never been to, this should be excited. Magically our group of 25 students figured out how to get back to the airport and how to ride the subway to downtown Seoul. I was in a group of about 9 other peeps- somehow none of us got lost and it was a great day- here's a picture of downtown. It reminded a lot of Japan.

After our free day some of us decided to visit the DMZ the next day. Here I am with a ROK solider. For those of you who do not know the DMZ stands for the Demilitarized Zone which is located between North and South Korea. In this picture I am technically in North Korea- no big deal.

After the DMZ we went to the reunification some-thing-a-rather. I don't remember the name of the place there was this fence where family members and other people affected by the separation of north and south Korea hang ribbons in the hopes to bring about reunification.

 Later that evening which was our last night in Seoul some of us decided to venture out to the University Distant to have dinner and drinks. Here some of us are in front of the Zen Bar. I thought it was very Buddhaful! Ha ha ha!

We did Seoul South Korea fast and furious but it was amazing! Now i'm in a new place- I'm not allowed to tell you where I am exactly but lets just say I road some of theses- look below!

 And I get to take lots of pictures of these! More to come, Love Audrey!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Getting Packed for Pac-Rim

My very first blog entry- hello and welcome to the wonderful world of 'Buddhaful Travels' by yours truly Audrey Jean. Here I'll keep anyone who is interested in my journey across Asia up to date about what I am up to. Most recently I've been shopping up a storm, buying sandals, walking shoes, fleeces, shampoo bars anything and everything I think I'll need. To say I feel the pressure would be an understatement. I went up to Seattle/Portland just a few days ago to begin the 'saying goodbye' process and I've realized that I don't like saying goodbye and I have a really hard time letting go! So to the people I've already said 'good bye' to- It's not goodbye, it's "smell you later" (Nelson from the Simpsons). I'm a bit scared to leave because 9 months seems like a really long time but I am so incredibly excited and feel so called to go on this journey that I KNOW it is what I am suppose to be doing.  I would like to thank everyone who has helped me get to this place because without all the help, support, and love that I have received this dream would not be coming true as we speak. So THANK YOU!  I hope you enjoy this blog and I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you all. To a new beginning- cheers!