2013: A year of Adventures

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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

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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.

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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!

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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!)

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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!

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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!

Mainland China- Beijing Day One

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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