10 Tips on How to Travel Extensively with a Teacher’s Salary!


I decided my first year of teaching that I would do something interesting every single summer vacation.  This usually means finding ways to spend a few months traveling the world.  I have been able to travel to 20 different countries since I have been a teacher to meet my goal of visiting 30 countries before I am 30 years old!   However, because I am a teacher, I had to find ways of doing it economically. The key is to think outside the box and find interesting alternatives to traditional vacations.   You must also have the follow through and drive to accomplish these plans.   You can’t sit around and wait for travel and adventure to knock on your door- that only happens to Bilbo Baggins. There are more opportunities out there than you could ever imagine, but you may have to do some leg work and research to find them!

1. Apply for grants and awards. 

One summer I got to visit 7 different countries in Asia as part of a self-designed independently conducted research trip to Asia. I got funding from an Indianapolis based company (Eli Lilly Foundation) that provides grants to teachers with interesting creative summer projects. With this special funding I was able to spend two glorious months learning about Asian education. Two years later I applied for a Fulbright research grant and I was selected to receive a Fulbright Distinguished Award in teaching. The amazing opportunity has allowed me to spend 5 months in Helsinki researching Finnish education. While these experiences sound intimidating and far-fetched, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! My advice is to find out what opportunities exist in your own community. If none exist, don’t hesitate to ask! You are capable of so much more than you realize but you will never find out just how much you have to give unless you take a chance on yourself and try.


1.  Find a summer job abroad

The fall of my second year of teaching I took an online course to become certified to teach English as a foreign language. I then found an organization that connected me to a Spanish family who wanted to learn English. In exchange for a few months of room and board I conducted a few English lessons a week and conversed with them over meals. The rest of my time was my own to travel and explore as I wished. This was an incredible opportunity to learn about Spanish culture, make new friends and get to live in Madrid for a whole summer for free.  There are great opportunities to get a short term working visa Australia if you are under the age of 25.  Plus- minimum wage in Australia is 25 dollars an hour!  Also check out WWOOF- New Zealand.  This allows you to live and work on an organic farm in New Zealand!  What an amazing experience.   http://www.wwoof.co.nz/  These are two great options for young teachers looking for amazing experiences!


3.  Plan, Plan, Plan

While I simply abhor a tediously planned travel schedule and I often market myself as a traveler without a plan I actually send a lot of time planning my trips.   While the day-to-day activities are usually uncharted, unplanned and always open to spontaneous adjustments, I do usually have a basic agenda to most of my travels (i.e. what countries I plan on visiting and how I will get there. ) To accomplish the goal of 30 by 30 I had to spend a lot of time planning a logical path and plan for my trips. I always try to maximize my time and money while also visiting as many countries in one trip as possible.

This takes time, up front research and an ability to think globally. I had to train myself to think in terms of regions instead of countries. For example, while I was in Singapore I decided I might as well make a stop in Malaysia and Thailand. While I was living in Spain I took the advantage of the cheap transportation in and around Europe and I visited many different countries and cities.

It is much cheaper to visit nearby countries while you are already “across the pond” than to make a second trip back. If you want to get to a lot of countries in a short amount of time you have to plan and organize your trips in a way that capitalizes on both time and money. I suggest you always look at the area you want to visit and see if there are any nearby countries or areas you also might want to see. Then you must research and find the cheapest way to get there be it an economy flight, a bus or a train. Don’t be afraid to think BIG, but also know that it will require a lot of pre-planning and work to pull it off.


4.  Get creative with saving strategies

While planning can cut back significantly on expenses, the travel bug is still an expensive disease and teachers do not make that much money. I had to get creative with my spending and saving habits. For example, before my two month backpacking trip to New Zealand, I did several money saving contests with myself.   For 6 months the only store I allowed myself to patronize was a Kroger, my local grocery store. I did this after I realized that if I entered other mega stores like Target or Wall-Marts I would inevitably be tempted to buy unnecessary items. Is shampoo and face cream more expensive at Korger? Maybe.   However I certainly saved money in the long run because I only bought household necessities like food and toiletries. I also went a few years without cable, only let myself go to the grocery store once a month and didn’t allow myself to turn on the heat until after January 1st for 4 consecutive years. Now, these contests with myself were a little extreme, but these strange self-challenges did end up helping me save enough money to spend my summer in New Zeland and Australia. The key is to be creative! Think of fun ways you can cut back and save money.


5. Don’t be afraid of budget travel.  Hostels are your friends! 

You learn pretty quickly that you do not have to stay in a fancy resort to have a great time in any location. I suggest staying in hostels to anyone and everyone. I know I know….sleeping in a room full of strangers sounds like a nightmare to most Americans who are used to building a wall of protection between themselves and anyone who is a little different. Yet, we go to summer camp as children. We sleep next to strangers on airplanes. Why are hostels any different? I promise they aren’t scary and they aren’t dirty (usually) and you won’t get killed in your sleep. If you do your research you can find pretty awesome Hostels- even ones with private rooms! Plus all you really need is a place to sleep and shower anyway. Everything else is superfluous luxury.   So why pay 100 to 200 dollars a night when you can pay 20 dollars a night for the same thing and travel 10 times as long?   Also in a hostel you get to meet new exciting people who may have great advice on what you should see and do.   See- Hostels provide built in friends!


6.  Say “Yes” to experiences and “No” to things.

I decided a long time ago that I would spend my money on experiences, not things. Things can rust and rot and be lost. Experiences stay with you forever; they become a part of you and help mold you into who you are destined to become. Experiences are worth my time and money; things are not. I don’t have a house, a fancy car or any furniture. I have either rented a small apartment or lived with a roommate. I am fairly content with hand me down items and free or really cheap garage sale finds. If I am tempted to buy something I often ask myself if I will still want/ need this item in 6 months. I also put the item in terms of a percentage of a plane ticket. I look at a new set of decorative curtains and think….that would be half of a plane ticket somewhere or a new dress and think….that is ¼ of a flight to New York. Ultimately I would much rather have a memory of an incredible experience than a new outfit or household item.

Now…while I just told you to fiercely save your money- you can’t be afraid to spend it on exciting opportunities, exciting adventures or unique cultural experiences!   I learned the hard way back in Venice that it is better to do what you want to do on your travels than to experience the later regret of being at a location and not “going for it”. When I was in Venice I decided that 40 Euros would be too much to spend on a gondola ride. I can tell you this- I would not be regretting or mourning the loss of that 40 Euros now- what is 40 Euros in the scheme of my life? However, I do regret the fact that I was in Venice Italy and I didn’t get to explore the canals via a gondola. I now have the desire to go back and rectify this regret and I can assure you it will cost me a lot more than 40 Euros to make it back to Venice.

Ever since Venice I have always had the mentality of spending my money while I am on my travels- Travel is what I saved it for after all! I might as well use it. Now while I would never condone going into debt for travel, I don’t regret spending all of my savings on experiences.  It isn’t unusual for me to end my summer travels with around 100 to 25 dollars left in both saving and checking accounts.   Even with only 12 dollars in my back account, I have never ever regretted a single dime I spent on travel or experiences. I do not wish I had more money. I can always make and save more later in life. Money is common and I wouldn’t trade all of the things I have been able to see and do in my life for a giant pile of cash in my bank account.


7.  Don’t be afraid to travel alone.

If I had waited for someone to be available to go with me on every one of my adventures I never would have gone anywhere. While there have been moments where it has worked out for a friend to go with me, more often than not I was going on these adventures on my own. And I have learned to actually prefer solo travel. You meet so many more people when you are traveling alone than when you are focused and dependent on a companion. Plus there is the added benefit of getting to make all of the decisions, having total flexibility according to your whims and fancy and time for personal self-reflection. You also learn to rely on God to send you help and guidance in different forms along the way.


8.  Make “stranger friends”. 

Stranger Friends are random people I have met on my travels. These friendships might be fleeting in length but essential and no less true than the ones formed in more traditional settings and with more natural tenures. These friends have helped and guided me on my way. They have given me advice, companionship and at times they even provide a place to stay for the night. We have shared meals and experiences and have become great friends. Sometimes I only meet these stranger friends once, we visit for a short amount of time and then go our separate ways. However, sometimes we become great friends who invite you to visit them in their country someday. And suddenly the woman you met on the street in Barcelona inspires you to come visit her in New Zealand. These random people you meet-these stranger friendships- often give birth to new adventures and experiences and locations.   And you will miss these experiences if you don’t have the courage to start talking to that stranger on the street or on the bus. 9 times out of 10 they are more than happy to talk to you- They just think you don’t want to talk to them.

9. Make personal sacrifices and decisions

Although I am pushing 30, I don’t have a house, a husband, a family, a dog or even a plant to my name. To be a true world traveler you do have to give up the need for some stability and commitment.   These have been choices I have made for the time being. And while there are times I think I might want these things, I have decided that for everything there is a season and right now my season is travel. Perhaps I can get these things in the future.   Or maybe I will never be able to surrender the adventurous, commitment free, nomadic lifestyle I have come to love and treasure.   The truth is that it would be very difficult to have the typical American dream (husband, house, kids, dog, plant) and travel at the same time. And for right now, I choose travel.


10.  Remain Thankful, Content and Open.

The best advice I could give anyone who wants to be a globetrotter is to learn to have a constant heart of thankfulness, contentment and gratitude. I know that I could not have had ANY of these experiences without God providing and guiding my every move.  He is the one who gets all of the credit and the glory for everything I have been able to see and do.  I am so thankful for all of his provision, love and guidance.  He also thought me how to be content in any situation.   If you learn to be content in any situation you will never be stressed or dissatisfied with anything that comes your way.   When you travel things will go wrong.   Things will be confusing and things could get stressful if you don’t have the right mindset. The key is to be content, and thankful! If you are simply thankful for any and all experiences negative or positive, you can’t be mad or stressed. You also need to be open and go with the flow. This not only limits the stress you might experience when faced with difficult or confusing situations, but openness also can lead you to unexpected adventures that exceed your wildest imaginations! My favorite moments in my travel have not been planned, but were in fact the result of being open to whatever opportunities came my way.


2013: A year of Adventures


The first of the year always brings with it reflections of the previous year.  I started to get down on myself for not accomplishing everything on my lofty “to do” list for the year.  I may not have lost the weight I wanted, wrote a book, or learned a new language…but as I reflect on the things I did accomplish I realized it might not have been as unproductive as I originally thought.  It turns out I had quite the year!

Things I Accomplished in 2013




1)  I finished my Master’s Degree and Graduated from Purdue University, ( I ran a race the day after I finished my degree.)


2)  I ran a two 5k races, two 10k races and my second 1/2 marathon!   13.1 Miles!


IMG_29923)  I returned to Spain….and it was even more beautiful and meaningful than the first visit. I visited my favorite parts of Madrid and we were reunited like the old dear friends that we are.  I also had the chance to make “New Friends” of the enigmatic Granada, the majestic Alhambra, and the leisurely Mallorca.  Most importantly, God spoke directly to me during this return pilgrimage to Spain, and I learned how to Abide in His love and through that, my joy was made complete.  This return to Spain last April was one of the most spiritually rewarding experiences of my life.  I will always treasure this trip, as I will always treasure Spain.


4)  2013 will be the year that I lived with my brother.  We shared an apartment this year and on top of being the best brother anyone could ask for, he has also been a great roommate! I respect and admire him so much for the incredible man he is. it has been great fun living together!   I will be forever grateful for the this time we spent together here at Ashley Place.  Derrek is more than my brother, he is one of my best friends.


5)  I attended my first professional soccer game… a Quarter final championship league game at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid.  I  wanted to go but I couldn’t afford even the cheap tickets.  However, God provided above and beyond my expectations!  He took the opportunity to show off and I was GIVEN 14th row VIP tickets!  It was an incredible once-in a lifetime experience!



6) I was awarded the Lilly Grant witch funded my summer research trip to Asia. I planed and organized this massive 2 month expedition.  I found the schools, teachers, and translators necessary to complete my research, as well as plan all the travels, get my visas, and arrange all my 19 different flights.  It was a massive undertaking that included 15 different cities.  In two months I didn’t spend more than three nights in a row in the same bed. A large part of my year was dedicated to planning and implementing this project, but I learned so much about the Asian academic systems and the unique Asian Culture.   This trip also allowed me to add seven new countries to my map which include; Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, China, South Korea, and Japan.  It even extended my total country count to 25!  (I only have 5 more to go in my whole “Thirty before I’m Thirty” plan!)


7)  It has been an amazing year of adventurous firsts! I walked the great wall of China and I explored the ancient temple complexes in the Cambodian Jungle.  I got a real Thai massage in Thailand. I navigated seas off the coast of Phuket in my Cave Canoeing adventure.  I rode (and fell in love with) an elephant named “Sabo”. I saw the most beautiful orchids in the world at the Singapore Botanical gardens and I journaled in front of my hotel room window that displayed the mighty Petronas towers of Kuala Lumpur.  I saw an epic light show dance across the Hong Kong Skyline,  I stood in attention with the ancient Terra-cotta warriors of Xi’An,  I explored the streets of old Beijing, ran to the birds nest and visited a real silk factory.  I attended both a dumpling feast and a tea ceremony.  I sailed down the river Li and witnessed its glorious 20,000 peaks!  I met the kindest people I will ever know in a South Korean coffee shop.  I ate a black egg that had been boiled underground in the sulfuric waters under Mt Fuji.  I attended a festival in Kyoto, saw the Golden Pavilion, stayed in a traditional Japanese Ryokan (inn) by the sea where I slept on mats on the floor and bathed in (public) natural hot springs.  I also visited a real Ninja House!




8)  I also dated someone for the first time…it turns out I am not really good at that sort of thing. I really prefer my independence it seems.  However, it was a great learning experience and I am glad that I went on my first real date in 2013…..finally!

9)  I had a student teacher teach in my classroom. (I know! When did I become old enough to be the one imparting wisdom to future teachers?!)   I did not enjoy this experience as much as I had expected as it was more difficult for me to give up control of my classroom than I had anticipated.  Maybe there is a theme here and in 2014 I should work on being less independent and more collaborative.

10)  This year I also took a chance and applied for a Fulbright Fellowship in Finland.  This is perhaps the biggest adventure I have dared to pursue.  It would mean me leaving my teaching position in Westfield for a few months to head to the Nordic Country of Finland for a 4-5 month research project.  I will not know until April if I will be accepted into the prestigious Fulbright community, but I put myself out there and dared to dream.  Who knows what the next year will bring, but I think I can content that 2013 was an amazing year.       Image

HERE is to another great Year!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Why Asia?

IMG_7549Ancient shrines, elegant arch bridges, divine cherry blossoms, artistic pagodas, spiritual temples, and breathtaking landscapes are all images one congers of the Asian continent.  Beyond these captivating and soul stirring landmarks, there exists a delicate culture based in beauty, honor, tradition, and a quiet strength that gives this unique society its understated power.   This culture, who highly values discipline and educational development, has lead the world in scientific and mathematical discovery for thousands of years.  Asia is still the champion of academics today.  According to international educational studies, Asian students out perform all other nations in their understanding of mathematical concepts.    As a math teacher, I proposed a grant to visit several math classrooms across Asia, meet with teachers and learn about the rich Asian culture in order to gain insight on how we can achieve similar academic success in the United States.  I proposed and was awarded a large sum to fund a six-week journey across seven Asian countries which helped me gain insight and develop an appreciation for the Asian culture and heritage with which I can share and inspire my students.

1002861_792807057756_1214827841_nI teach 7th grade and I know how first hand accounts and personal experiences have helped my students gain perspective and broaden their understanding of the world in which they live.  This age group does not connect to mere facts listed in a book, but are easily engaged with authentic accounts and personal reflections.   Asian history is a major standard of the 7th grade curriculum.   Throughout the year they will learn about all of the countries I visited this summer.  I have already had the opportunity to share my prospective and experiences with them on the subject.  I cherish opportunities that help me use my knowledge of various civilizations to teach my students and make them more informed and aware citizens of the world.

1010822_786267198686_1042957626_nAlthough I have traveled extensively in the past, this trip was my first experience in an eastern culture and it challenged me personally as an explorer.  It literally broadened my horizon and helped me realize that, with God’s amazing grace, love and provision, I can accomplish even more than I could ever imagine.   I relish the growth and experience this summer provided.  I tell my students that if your goals don’t scare you a little, then you are not thinking big enough.   This summer I took this motto to heart!  This summer was the definition of intimidating.  In the course of 7 weeks I visited 7 Asian countries, 15 cities, slept in 18 different hotels/ hostels, took over 19 different flights, and experienced 22 custom check in/ outs.   I accomplished all of this with ease without knowing the language or the traditions and customs of this incredibly unfamiliar  land.  Most importantly I loved every  minute of it.  This summer, I overlooked the incredible skylines of Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.  I explored sea caves in Thailand.   I rode an elephant in Cambodia and explored ancient temples at the Angkor Wat complex.  I hiked up The Great Wall of China, and visited the ancient and mysterious Terracotta Warriors of Xi’An. I visited Guiline, and its awe-inspiring 20,000 peaks along the River Li.  I experienced true hospitality in Korea, and saw the tranquil golden pavilion of Japan.  Instead of staying in my comfort zone, I dared to dream big,  I aimed high, I sought out opportunities, and God provided in each and every way!

1045135_787561360176_517422190_nThis summer was both intellectually stimulating, professionally motivating, and emotionally renewing.  It not only provided  me with new teaching tools, concepts and applications for my classroom, but it also developed my understanding of the world.   This project gave me inspiration, direction and a renewed enthusiasm for the mathematics content that I love so dearly.  It also challenged me as a world explorer and transformed me into a more informed, well-rounded person and teacher.  Overall my goal is to inspire my students to be productive, informed citizens that feel connected to the world around them.  This project helped me accomplish that goal.  In the next few weeks I hope to share some of those lessons and experiences with you.  So stay tuned!

Top 15 Things About Asia that Surprised Me.

1. ASIA- The Land of Hot Dogs, Corn on the Cob, Ice Cream and KFC?????
Be it Thailand, Cambodia, China, Korea or Japan, what did I find on every street corner, in every market, cafeteria, street vender or convenience store? Hot Dogs and corn on the cob! Ice cream cones were always nearby as well. Top that with the fact that KFC’s are more common than McDonalds and Starbucks combined, your mind just might explode. But it is the truth. For every 1 McDonalds there was at least 4 KFC’s My cambodian driver had never even heard of McDonalds or Starbucks, but there were 2 KFC’s in his small city! A month ago I would have told you nothing screams US of A to me more than Hot Dogs, Corn on the Cob, Fried Chicken and Ice Cream. I mean, all of them are literally dripping with so much American tradition it is ridiculous. However, I would say that more Chinese eat Kentucky Fried Chicken than do Americans. I mean, when was the last time YOU went to a KFC? I am not even sure if there is one in my city. Now I understand why they are on the demise in the US. KFC is concentrating all of their efforts on the Billion people in China! And don’t get me started on the number of Ice cream shops in Asia. They LOVE I mean LOOOOVVVE Ice cream over here.

2. Where’s the Sauce?
I have yet to find Soy Sauce on any restaurant table. It is nowhere to be found. Apparently adding more salt to already salty food is just an American phenomenon. As are Fortune Cookies. I have had amazing Chinese meals, and not a single one of them ended with a cookie telling me helpful advice like “He who does not drink is thirsty.”

3. A Red Light does not mean Stop
Well… It does, but not for long. I found it surprising that a culture that is so trained to follow rules and not question authority have NO problem violating every traffic rule known to man. Crossing the street in Shanghai was always a life and death type of experience. And there were several moments in various Chinese cities where I felt like I was Frogger. The red light on a stop light apparently does not mean stop. It means slow down, check that no one else is coming and then keep going. But, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. If I grew up in Red China, maybe I would think Red was “go” as well. (Too soon?) Also, they have trouble with waiting in line. I don’t know how many middle aged Chinese women pushed right in front of me in various types of what I assumed to be line situations. Apparently a line is of little significance. I finally learned that you have to just respectfully push your way in. If you try to wait politely for your turn, you may be waiting a long time.

4. The Happy Room- Not so Happy.
The guide at the Forbidden Palace kept calling the bathroom the “Happy Room”. And with such a cheerful nomenclature, how could I not go utilize its services. However, this was my first experience with the public bathrooms of China and I didn’t find it quite so happy. There are two things you should know before you enter a public restroom in China. The first being that there are no toilet seats- they are all squat style toilets.


This seemed shocking to me at first, but I can see the logic behind these types of public toilets. There is no contact with the actual device- therefore in a way it is more hygienic. You just aim for the hole in the ground. The problem is that I am a westerner who is not accustomed to such a system and there are other westerners here as well and the floor was COVERED with…well lets call it “happy” water. The smell was quite over powering. The second thing you should know is that public bathrooms are BYOTP. Thats right. Bring your own Toilet Paper. If you are used to that system it isn’t a problem. You come prepared. However, if you are not used to this system you are kind of left in the lurch. Thankfully before I entered the stall for the first time,a Chinese woman gave me some of her tissues. In the rare event that you did run across a western style toilet seat there are helpful (illustrated) instructions on how to use such a device!


PHEW! I am so glad those were there. I almost forgot that you are not supposed to stand backwards on the toilet seat. That would have been embarrassing. Not to mention difficult! I don’t think I am that talented. I got use to the Chinese bathrooms….kind of. But I was really glad to see the Happy Rooms in Korea and Japan. Their seats not only existed, but were heated! However they had so many bells and whistles on them I found them quite intimidating.

5. Chinese prefer Blonds
For a bit in Asia I was traveling with a family from Australia. They were all blond and caused quite the stir amongst the Chinese tourists. Those who were traveling from the Chinese countryside were especially fascinated with the family’s daughter because of her light skin, blond hair and blue eyes. They would run up to her, grab her and take a photo with her. At first she was quite scared, as you understandably would be, then she got use to it. However, about 100 pictures later she got annoyed. My friend Karyn once had a lady come right up to handed her baby over to Karyn and took a picture of the two of them. It was quite funny! My friend Karyn was like…she just handed me her baby! He was the cutest little happy Chinese baby you have ever seen. ( side note, this trip has really made me want a chubby little Asian baby!). This reverse photo bombing never happened to me because I don’t look Western enough.

6. They are scared of the Sun
If the sun is out, the Asian Women are under umbrellas. Their culture loves fair skin and they go to great lengths to stay pale. The hotter the weather the more covered they are. They wear long sleeves, hats, gloves, sunglasses, scarfs, even face masks to protect their skin. I almost got the feeling I was living amongst a community of vampires. The truth is that they think white skin is beautiful and that darker skin means that you are part of the working class. Therefore they will go do almost anything, to stay pale. I even saw a woman wear a full face mass and cover every inch of their body while going on their morning run. They carry their umbrellas everywhere. Some are even very talented at holding the umbrella while riding their bike, with two kids in tow. This aversion to the sun is not just for vanity, but also helps them improve their station in life. It is harder for a tan woman to get a good job in China. This is very different than the American philosophy that views tan women as relaxed, healthy and vibrant. While this Chinese practice seems to be painfully warm, perhaps this is much healthier than those who spend their summer frying their skin in an effort to look like an Oompa Lumpa.


7. “High” Style
Fashion was very interesting and varied from city to city however there was one common thread. The girls wore: high heels, High collars, and High skirts. Seriously. Everyone wore high heels. I mean my feet ached just to look at some of these shoes! And the skirt and shorts were very short, but the neck lines were ULTRA conservative. I mean It was very rare to see a collar bone and absolutely NO cleavage. Almost every man in Korea dressed and looked like a math professor (Nice slacks, shoes, button down shirt and big glasses)- It drove me wild!

8. The half shirt compromise
In contrast to the women who cover up to avoid the sun, when it was hot it was very common to see men, especially old men, in China roll up their shirts up to their armpits and walk around the city, eat dinner in a restaurant, or ride the subway, fully exposing their stomachs. Up until 2008 it was not uncommon for men to go about their day without shirts. When the olympics came to Beijing, the government, in an effort to appear westernized, made it law that men had to wear shirts at all times. Therefore, this half shirt on-half shirt off is a way for the older men to cling to their past without disobeying the government. I call this the half-shirt compromise.


9. Remove your Shoes!
I now know why it is very important to remove your shoes before you enter a house, or restaurant or school. Between the squat toilets, the poor drainage systems, and the fact that it is culturally accepted in China to spit anywhere at anytime (I mean, big honking spits right in front of people. I think I almost got spit on a couple of times.) your shoes get quite filthy. I still forget to take of my shoes sometimes and I hate when I realize how rude that is to their culture. The school I visited in Korea requires its students to remove their shoes when they enter the building and wear special slippers around the school complex. And the hotel workers where shocked when I entered my hotel room before first removing my shoes. One of the spas I visited in Thailand made us leave our shoes outside of the store before we entered. It is very important to them and after living here I see why.


10. It’s not the same.
The Letters and Characters of Thai, Khmer, Malay, Chinese, Korean and Japanese all look VERY different. Below is the same sentence (They do not look the same.) translated into the different languages. You can see how different they are.

Thai: พวกเขาไม่ได้มีลักษณะเดียวกัน
Malay: أنها لا تبدو هي نفسها.
Chinese: 他們看起來不一樣的。
Korean: 그들은 같은 보이지 않는.
Japanese: 彼らは同じように見えません。

Khmer- The Language of Cambodia is my 2nd favorite ( only after Thai). However, it is not easily translated. Below is a sample of its beautiful writing. I have no idea what this says.


11. Which side of the road?
There is a major discrepancy on which side of the road is used for driving. This caused me a lot of difficulty. I never knew which side of the side walk, stairs, escalators to walk on or which way to look before I crossed the road because it kept switching on me. In Singapore and Thailand they drive on the left, but Cambodia was right. Hong Kong was left but Mainland China and Korea were right. And then Japan was left again. It is probably a good thing I wasn’t driving.

12. Breakfast is just a meal in the morning.
The breakfast buffet at my hotels were always interesting. They put a mix of “western” breakfast food in there for the tourists, but the rest was filled with Chicken Terriaki, Salads, Noodles, Soup, Sautéed cabbage, fried rice, sushi, ect. I am sure it is strange to them that we have to have a “special” kind of food in the morning. To them breakfast is no different than any other meal…it is just the first one of the day.


13. The Cost is the Same.
The prices may be different due to the conversion rate, but overall I have noticed that the cost of items in China and Korea are fairly similar to the costs found in the US. This was shocking to me. If something is inexpensive, it is usually made in China. Logic then follows that all of the products in China would be inexpensive. This is not the case. If you go into a mall in china and factor in the conversion rate, the price of ordinary items are pretty much exactly what they would cost in the US. Now,I will concede that food is less expensive. You can go out to eat with your friends and the cost of the meal is less than what you would pay for one meal in the US. But, products are not as cheap as I thought. In the markets I was able to barter a bit and get some prices down, but I think I was still paying the tourist price for most items. However, some items I found more expensive in Asia. Coffee, for example, is much more expensive in many parts of Asia. (And not very good. Seoul was the exception.) And EVERYTHING was expensive in Singapore and Japan.

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14. Seoul- The Seattle of the East
There were more coffee shops in Seoul than just about any city I have visited in the US. Almost every other building was a multiple story coffee shop. It was wonderful! Mix that with the fact that it was drizzly 4 of the 5 days I was there and you can see why I kept forgetting that I wasn’t in Seattle. However, I found out that it isn’t usually customary to have friends over to your house in Asia. You don’t often entertain guests at home- you get together at a resturant or in this case a coffee shop! Also, people are so friendly in Korea. I actually met a few people while I was at a coffee shop. I noticed a guy wearing a cap with the American flag on it. I am sure I said a cheesy joke and we started talking, I helped him with his English lessons and we became instant friends! We met up for dinner the next evening and they even brought me a gift of special Korean cookies! I was quite touched! They are great people and I am so blessed to have met them!


15.Soap Operas- the Universal Show.
One day in Shanghai I took it easy and stayed in my room. I ended up watching a bit of a marathon of a Chinese Soap Opera. To my amazement, after only 30 mins I pretty much figured out the entire plot-line without understanding a word of what they were saying. I also realized in about the third epesoid each one has exactly the same plot with only subtle variations. I found out that there about three things on the television in China; very dramatic soap operas, Old time China period shows or really, complicated and hysterical game shows that seemed pretty random and therefore impossible for me to follow.

Mainland China- Beijing Day One

Beijing surprised me. Coming from Hong Kong’s concrete Jungle I expect Beijing to be a similar crowded city where people walked shoulder to shoulder with busy tiny roads, crazy traffic, and loud dirty streets filled to its brim with people. (can you tell Hong Kong was not my favorite) Instead I found the capital to have a MUCH more relaxed feel to it. Its roads, that had been restructured for the 2008 Olympics, were wide, efficient and allowed traffic to flow freely. Something that also added to the improved traffic was the fact that when you get a license plate to drive you are also given travel restrictions. For example, if your plate number starts with a six you can’t drive on Tuesdays during the month of July. The restricted days switch according to the month. It definitely helps with traffic, but I would find the system to be quite confusing. I suppose you get use to it after a while.

While the Beijing skyline perspective is not nearly as impressive as Hong Kong, Beijings buildings do not suffocate the city. Instead they were spread out and gave it and its inhabitants room to breath. Yet, Hong Kong is hardly to blame for its crammed nature. Because it is an island covered with Mountains, useable land is limited. However, the contrast between the two cities is not soley due to physical limitations. There are also huge cultural differences that contribute to the city design. Unlike Hong Kong, which was developed by the English, Beijing has been purposefully and carefully developed over hundreds of years according sacred concept of Feng Shui.

Growing up in the Midwest, the concept of Feng Shui was never taken too seriously. Perhaps it would be casually and comically mentioned when rearranging furniture, but never really considered to be truly important. However, I didn’t need to spend very much time in Beijing to see that Feng Shui is no joking matter to the Chinese culture. It is taken into careful consideration for almost any designed element from city design to food placement, and even a woman’s jewelry. The art of Feng Shui started thousands of years ago and was used as a way to balance one’s Qi (Ch’i). The words mean Wind/Water and represent the polarity between heaven ( wind represented by a circle) and earth (water represented by a square). Beijing is designed as a series of several concentric squares all stemming from the central 250 acre square that is The Forbidden City.


This palace complex, which is the heart of the city of Beijing, was built in 1406 at the start of the Ming Dynasty. It was designed as a square in the new capital of China to represent the fact that it was the center of the earth according to Feng Shui. To the North of the palace there resides a man made mountain or Prospect Hill. It is the Feng Shui belief that a mountain should reside to the north of a city to promote good Qi. This massive and mysterious city housed 24 emperors and their families for over 600 years during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Forbidden to outsiders, any common citizen or foreigner who entered into the city gates were painfully executed. The mystery of the unknown has therefore captivated the minds and curiosity of outsiders for generations.
Due to changes in political powers the Qing Dynasty ended, the last emperor of China was overthrown and the palace was opened to the public in the early 20th century, however much of the city was destroyed during the cultural revolution to follow. Now days this ancient palace is filled daily with thousands of tourist who wish to see the temples and palaces of their ancient past.

The complex is simply massive. It has over 800 buildings and exactly 9,999 rooms. It could have had more, but the emperor dared not to disrupt his Qi by building a complex with more rooms than the supposed 10,000 rooms of heaven. But, I personally think 9,999 rooms is plenty. It would take a person 27 years to spend one night in each of the rooms. As I walked around the ornate city I found it incredible that such a place with such amazing detail was constructed in only 14 years. Yet, I suppose you can accomplish a lot with over 1 million builders. The color scheme was much the same throughout the complex. Red which wards off Evil, Gold which represents royalty, blue represents heaven and green represents earth were used carefully to create good Feng Shui. Careful attention to detail was shown throughout the construction with careful consideration for the number of represented elements. The number 9 represents long life, therefore many buildings were constructed with 9 windows, 9 archways, ect. Every door had a series of 9 by 9 golden nobs that promoted long life and harmony. There were also 9 animals represented at the top of the palace to represent the fact that this was the most important building. No other building has that many animals represented.


There were also large golden pots positioned throughout the complex. These were filled with water to use in case of a fire, but even these were designed to promote proper Feng Shui. They were positioned over fire pits to keep the water from freezing in the winter and therefore symbolized all 5 natural elements, earth, wood, fire, metal and water.


To the south of The Forbidden city is the famous Tienamen Square. This square who’s name means the Gate of Heavenly Peace, is known for something quite different in the United States. It was difficult to get answers about what happened on the square in 1989. I asked my guide about it and either she couldn’t say or really did not know the truth about the event, but her account of what happened was not what I had learned in school. I tried looking it up while I was in China but the content was blocked. What striked me most about the square was its size. It is the third largest city square in the world. (109 acres and 960 by 550 yd). Another interesting element was the fact that you can visit the preserved body of Chairman Mao in a nearby government building. The line to see him was longer than any line I had seen before. It was quite the site and something that was difficult for me to understand.


Phuket Thailand


Welcome to SouthEast Asia! Even though I spent the first leg of my Asian adventure in Singapore I don’t think I experienced true Asian culture until I landed in the Phuket airport. Imigration was fast and easy, but once we stepped outside, I realized that I was truley in Asia. In Singapore order ruled and English was the primary language of everyone. In Thailand things were different. It was quite refreshing to be in a country where English skills were limited. It strenthened my methods of comunication and also helped me develop patience and understanding. Even though there were comunication barriers, it did not take long to see the hospitable spirit of the Thai people. We reached our resourt and were greeted with real flower Leis that smelled wonderful. The resort was gorgeous and as we checked in we were given cold towles and fresh juice. The complex was absoluetly lovely and the pool was amazing. It was monsoon season so the resort was not very full and we were able to get a room for very cheap.

Because of the weather, the beach on this West Side of Thailand was very rough and unpredictable and the waves were rough. Therefore we decided to take our umbrella and go explore the city. We were very glad we did not stay in the party center of Patong Beach. Instead we stayed in the quiter and less touristy Karon Beach. As we walked around we wondered upon a night market. We later found out that this happens only once a week. We were so blessed to have chosen this night to explore. This place was very interesting. It gave us a new insight into the culture of Phuket island. We saw booths where you could get a fish pedicure. That is where little tiny fish eat away all of the dead skin on your feet. We also ran across a Bug Buffett. We declined both of these experiences and moved on to find a massage place where we both got 90 minute massages for about 12 US dollars. They were wonderful, however the Thai standard of modesty when it comes to massages is quite different than I’m use to. It was quite the experience.


After our massages we went to a local restaurant to get some authentic Thai Food. I got Pad Thai and my friend Teresa got Masaman Curie. This started a tradition and we would compare these dishes throughout the rest of SE Asia. The waiters asked us where we were from and we said USA. They were very surprised. They said that they had never had an American eat there before. At first we found this hard to believe seeing how Phuket was such a tourist destination. Yet, the more we thought about it the more we realized that Teresa and I had not ran into another American in Southeast Asia. Not even in Singapore. However, determined to show off their true Thai hospitality the crew did a great job of cooking us up some traditional food and it was great. Just before we were about to leave, it started to rain again. The cook from the restaurant came out and tried to give us her personal umbrella. I was truly touched. We refused, but that she would give one of her few possessions to an entitled stranger tourist is beyond normal understanding of generosity. And my heart was touched.


The next day we rose early to start an adventure. We woke up early to go cave canoeing. According to others, it had been raining fairly heavily the past week. I didn’t mind. It had been nice to sit in the open air hotel lobby and read while listening to the rain and feeling the cool breeze, but I prayed that it would be nice for our canoeing trip. When we woke up that morning, the weather didn’t look good. A van picked us up to take us to the other side of the island to start our adventure. The rain poured and I started to get more and more worried that we had wasted our money. Yet I prayed that God would change my heart and my thinking. I thought instead how lucky is it that it is raining right now while we are in a van traveling to the canoes, and perhaps it is God’s will for the rain to happen now instead of later. I knew right then that God was going to take care of us and if we had faith in Him he would work it out rain or shine. I knew it was going to be a great day and I started to praise him in my heart! It was an interesting ride to the location. We passed under a fallen telephone poll, oh- don’t worry the tangled mass of unorganized electrical wire that is quite common in the towns of Thailand held the poll up high enough for our van to drive under. Then we drove past a mud slide. It was a great way to start our little adventure.

Instead of worrying, I thanked God for His protection and timing. Perhaps if we had come a few minutes later we wouldn’t have been able to get through. Through prayer my heart had changed from one of worry to one of praise and God honored that. When we got to our Canoes it was the best weather the island had seen all week. I had faith that it would work out and God provided, just like He always does. The canoeing adventure was incredible. It was absolutely perfect. It rained a couple of times at the end, but by that time we were hot and the rain was welcome. It even added another element of adventure to the experience. It was quite fun and the whole day was perfect. And the next morning it was even sunny enough to lay out by the pool. God really provided! It is amazing how powerful a heart of praise can be!






Singapore the Melting pot of the East


And so I arrived in Asia…..Kind of. A resident of Singapore told me that I chose a good city in which to ease into the Asian culture. With a heartfelt chuckle he described the city as “Asia lite.” There is truth to his statement. The city reminded me more of New York or London than anything I could conjure from my limited knowledge of Asian culture. Because it is a city of Ex Pats or Ex-patriots, it lacks a true identity. These ex-pats leave their home country seeking the thrill of living in an exciting and financially powerful hub of the Eastern Hemisphere. Along with their wives and children they bring with them their unique qualities that embellishes the unidentifiable flavor of this booming City State. It is a true melting pot. At first glance I didn’t think so. I thought it was just English. Everyone spoke English, the signs were in English, they used English electrical plugs, and even drove on the left side of the road. However, one trip to little India, or china town or Arab street you can see the different threads that weave together this beautiful tapestry that creates the lovely nation of Singapore.

My first night in Singapore I got to really taste what it is like to be living in a vibrant city full of culture and depth. I still don’t know how God worked this all out, but I ended up staying with a lovely friend of a friend of a friend. Her name was Britta and she was originally from Germany but I know her now to be a true citizen of the world. She proved herself to be the most gracious and willing host even BEFORE I had even met her. When I asked her why she would be so open and welcoming to a stranger she simply stated that she had received so many blessings from individuals around the world in her own journeys that she was pleased for the opportunity to help a fellow traveler. I have often felt the same way and I knew right then that I was going to learn a great deal from her.

My first night Britta took me to her friends art gallery opening. (pantone my art). It was a display of 10 different artist. Each artist painted the same subject but each had a designated color and medium. The night was full of art, culture, food, drinks and interesting people from around the world. This incredible experience was followed by a rooftop feast of THE BEST Indian food with the incredible Singapore Skyline as our backdrop.

20130623-231844.jpgThe next day I explored the beautiful Singapore Botanic Gardens which includes the worlds largest collection of orchids. It was a beautiful day and I really enjoyed seeing the calmer side of Singapore. I had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant and had time to contemplate my surroundings. The people people of Singapore were incredibly friendly, kind and helpful.. And everything was orderly, clean and efficient. The city, which outlaws gum due to its messiness, was spotless. There was never ANY trash on the ground despite the fact that I could NEVER Find a trash bin. I found out later that one reason for the cleanliness was that the city can fine you up to 1,000 dollars for littering or make you do hours of community service. A country with ACTUAL consequences! How refreshing! The fact that crime is truly punished (ie drug trafficking is punishable by death) creates a city with a very low crime rate. Funny how that works.

20130623-232515.jpgLater that evening I had dinner with a friend from Malaysia I had met on the train from Prague to Luzern Switzerland two years previously. Through the power of facebook we figured out that we would both be in Singapore and he graciously showed me around the city and took me out for a traditional Malaysian meal. I have to admit that I was nervous to try Sting Ray, but it was actually quite good!

20130623-232637.jpgThe next day my friend Teresa arrived from Indy and we explored China Town and Little India. We tried the countries beloved Durian Fruit. While I can appreciate the giant building in the city that is shaped like a Durian, I did not love the taste or the SMELL of the Durian Fruit. Later in Thailand I would find a sign that prohibited the Durian to be eaten inside the building because of the smell…which if you have ever smelled a Durian is quite a reasonable request.

20130623-232753.jpgThat evening, Teresa, Britta, Britta’s friend from Sweden and I went out for a ladies night. We started on Arab street and ate at a Turkish restaurant. It was incredible. Probably my favorite dining experience I’ve had so far on this trip. After dinner Britta took us to some amazing spots around Singapore. One of which included the famous Marina Bay Sans hotel. This building is famous for its giant boat shaped rooftop infinity pool that lays across the three towers of the hotel. What fascinates me the most about this structure is not the remarkable pool but the knowledge that this incredible building resides on reclaimed land. It, and all of the incredible buildings around it are now standing where the ocean use to reside. It is knowledge of structures like this that give me a huge appreciation for the civil engineers, like my brother, who have the ability to create these structures and make them safe.

So…in three days I was in Singapore I experienced the foods of India, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, and Turkey. I had met many people from all around the world. And I got to see some pretty incredible sights. It is a very interesting city. It seems to be always on the move. Just like the people who move in and out, it is constantly changing and adapting and molding itself into the gorgeous tapestry of individualized threads full of life and flavor.