Blame China for everything….

Hello Everyone!

Hope all is well.  I should be writing a 10 page term paper for my legal and ethical class right now, but instead, I figured it would be a better use of my time to update you all on how things here in South Korea are going.  I know, procrastination at its finest.  Recognition of the problem is the first step, right?

Not a whole lot has been going on, partly because Zach’s work schedule has been insane and partly because the air quality has been so god awful these past few weeks that its hard to justify going outside unless you really have to.   If you are friends with Zach on Facebook, send him some love.  He has been working 14-16 hour days, even on the weekends, and most likely won’t get a day off for another two weeks.  He’s tired and functioning on coffee and adrenaline at this point.  They call this time in key development positions for major’s Iron Major for a reason, and he is definitely feeling it.  He is hopeful that things will slow down to 12 hour days in a few weeks, so keep your fingers crossed for him.  Vietnam and Cambodia seem a lifetime ago and I am anxiously awaiting for him to tell me some leave dates so he can get some much needed R & R.

Though I am grateful to be here with my husband, I don’t get to see him all that much, and without school I would be bored to tears (let’s be honest, with school I am bored to tears).  As long as I survive working on a 16 week group project for one of my final classes (I am the only one not in Colorado so the time difference has been challenging to put it lightly), I will graduate in May.  So I am currently in the process of a background check for a government job, and will be gainfully employed again hopefully by the end of the month.  Its not the dream job, but its a step in the door and will hopefully make future moves and transferring a bit easier than its been.  I’m also just excited to have something to occupy my time once school is over since Zach works such long hours.  And since we will both be working, we are in the process of buying a second vehicle.  If all goes well, I will be pimping a Jeep Cherokee like a boss.  I’m super excited.

Otherwise, the only other big thing going on is the air quality here.  I cannot put into words how god awful it is, and has been for the past month.  Apparently this is not typical, and though we were “prepared” for bad air to happen in the spring, this winter has been a huge slap in the face to all of us here in Korea.  A few of my friends and I were having lunch last week discussing it.  Its so frustrating because we all got here the same time last year and were really embracing being here in Korea.  But I think all of us are over being here because the air quality has such a negative impact on quality of life.  We get daily emergency notices on our cell phones from the government warning us of the air quality, and you can just look outside and see the smog.  Its insane.  And depressing. And so very frustrating because there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it except hope the wind picks up to move the pollution away.  I was looking at some of the pictures I have taken while being here in Korea, and in almost all of them you can see the film of pollution in the air.  Its disgusting.  The first two pictures below were taken on my walk to post a few weeks ago.  That haze is not fog, but a visual of the air quality here in Korea.

img_2841img_2840img_2873img_2882 What’s infuriating to me is the fact that most Korean’s blame China for the quality of air here.  And sure, I think there is some validity to that.  China is a communist country where everything seems to be  made, and they are all about making money, even at the expense of the health of its citizens.  Their factories and coal plants are not regulated like ours are in the states, and because of the way the air stream works in this part of the world, the jet stream brings pollutants to Korea from China. Regulation costs money, which therefore drives up product prices.  Everything is ‘made in china’ because it is truly cheaper, but at what costs?  The pollutants in the air here have been linked to stroke, heart disease, in addition to all the respiratory issues.  But Korea, in their zeal to be a formidable economy and compete with the rest of the world, have popped up coal plants and manufacturing facilities left and right.  When I first moved here, I was so very impressed with their way of dealing with trash, but after living in country for almost 8 months now, I understand that things aren’t what they seem.  To be in compliance with the law, you must purchase specific trash bags, which are VERY expensive, and sort your garbage accordingly.  However, the locals circumvent this by just burning their trash.  Its cheaper in the long run.  There are no laws against this that I’m aware of and this burning of trash only makes the air quality that much worse.  Its very frustrating being here because until the government here recognized that Korea in fact contributes to their own shitty air quality and stops blaming China, I don’t really see things getting better.  Its sad because if it weren’t for the air quality, Korea would be amazing.  Sure, Zach’s job here blows, but Korea has a ton to offer.  Unfortunately, I would rather not risk my health to explore those opportunities.  Its been a pretty somber realization to say the least.  I’ve been considering buying a better face mask to protect myself.  Seriously.  I actually considered the mask pictured below. Its that bad.  So keep an eye on what is going on in the US, because we just confirmed a coal lobbyist as the new head of the EPA.  Once your air is polluted, there isn’t a ton you can do.   Asia is learning this lesson the hard way.  It’s clear that the current US administration is more concerned with saving money then looking at the consequences of making things cheaper.    After living in Asia for 8 months and feeling like crap most days because of the air quality, I’m appalled at the complete disregard we seem to have for the environment as a whole.  It does affect you, whether you believe it or not, and not in a good way. img_2889img_2881

Alright, I guess I should maybe start this term paper.  Maybe.  Until next time, breathe easy my friends….

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visible smog on the horizon
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I almost don’t remember what fresh air looks like
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This is from 123 floors up at Seoul Tower.  Smog 😦

 

 

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Good Morning, Vietnam!

Alright, so I’ve totally been slacking and have had every intention to post this two weeks ago, but you know, life.  Sorry!  So here is the much anticipated part 2 installment of the vacation Zach and I took back in January, featuring Vietnam.

I will be completely honest, I knew a little bit about Vietnam before going, but probably not as much as I should have.  I knew the US was involved in the war there, that American’s protested our involvement, and we eventually withdrew and the side we were supporting did not get their way in the conflict, and because of that, Vietnam is a communist country. Outside of that I was pretty clueless, so it was beyond eye opening to land into Ho Chi Min City from Cambodia mid afternoon and be ushered directly to the Vietnam War Remnants Museum.  Our tour guide explained to us that this museum was erected not too long after the war, and was originally named the US War Crime museum, but in the 90’s when we lifted the embargo and stabilized relations, the government decided to change the name to the War Remnants Museum in order to play nice with our government, but they literally only changed the name of the museum.  It was very much an Anti-America propaganda museum, and our tour guide let us know we could spend as little or as much time as we wanted too.   Don’t get me wrong, war is war, and both sides do not so nice things, but that museum painted a picture that the US was the devil and the Viet Cong were angels.  If you didn’t have previous knowledge, you would leave that museum thinking the Viet Cong had zero guns and tanks, because everything on display were our weapons, our bomb shells, pictures of the destruction and devastation caused by agent orange. img_2456

Needless to say I left that museum feeling like enemy of the state and a little worried about how we would be received being Americans.  But our tour guide explained that everyone pretty much understands that the museum is propaganda set up by the government, and for the most part the Vietnamese have a very positive view of Americans, they just don’t love our government and their meddling ways.

And I will say, I absolutely loved our time in Vietnam and its people despite the less then warm welcome we got from that museum.  Despite such a tough history and a suffocating government, the Vietnamese people are some of the happiest people I have ever encountered.  They are always smiling!  It was kind of unnerving, but also made for a wonderful vibe.

After the museum, we went to the Independence Palace, which was built by the US government in order to help prop up the South Vietnam government during the Vietnam war.  The palace itself is pretty magnificent and rumor has it, it might be the venue where Trump and Kim Jong-Un will be meeting later this month.   The President of South Vietnam at the time had a direct line to the white house from the palace and that phone is still on display.

 

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Ho Chi Min City is a bustling metropolis, home to 8 million people and 9.5 million motorbikes.  You do the math.  Traffic was INSANE.  There are very few traffic lights for a city that large and crossing the street is like a real life game of frogger.  Our tour guide told us that the bravest driver has the right of way, and I believe it.  There was no rhyme or reason to the traffic pattern but it works for them.  Though there is an obscene amount of honking, the drivers are generally patient and not aggressive with each other at all and there are hardly an accidents, which totally blew my mind.  It was also insane to see what was transported on those motor bikes.  Our tour guide showed us a picture of a live cow being transported by motorbike in the middle of the city.  Seriously, if there is a will, there is a way, and it is being transported by bike.  img_2598

Because the city is in the south, and the people in the south were fighting against communism in the war, all the locals call the city Saigon, which was the name of the city before the Vietnam War.  The government renamed the city after the war in honor of Ho Chi Min, a prominent and respected leader of Vietnam in a way to kind of erase what Saigon stood for before the war.  But even in the north of the country, where communism was welcomed, they still call the city Saigon as well.  It was very confusing at first to say the least.

We had tour guides in both the North and the South of the country, and of course their government came up, since Vietnam is really only one of two communist countries left in the world (China being the other one….most look at Cuba, North Korea, etc as dictatorships anymore).  No one likes the communist government and people from both areas told us they wish the South had won the war.  But for them, the Vietnam war was not about government types as it was for us (we joined the war to prevent the spread of communism), instead it was about independence and being able to govern themselves on their own.  Previous to the Vietnam War, France had colonized the country for over 90 years, and before that, China invaded off and on for over 1000 years.  They just wanted peace to stand on their own.  At least that’s how it was explained to us.  They all agreed that the fact that there is no homeless, and no one is really poor unless they are part of the indigenous tribes that live in isolation, they feel stifled by their government but have no power to do anything about it.  And let me tell you, it was odd to walk around Saigon and see no one begging on the street, no homeless in a city of that size.  It was pretty incredible.  But unfortunately that pro was one of the few that was listed of a communist government.  Everyone is require to get an education, but parents have to pay for all education from grade school to college.  So if a family can’t afford education for their children, they will only send them long enough to learn how to read and write and then they go to work to help contribute to the family.  They also pay for healthcare 100% and the government checks in on them if they haven’t seen a doctor in a while, because the government makes money off of people seeing the doctors there.  They do have insurance similar to what we have in the states, but health care is very expensive and if they are able they try to seek treatment in other countries because they feel the doctors there perform unnecessary procedures to make money for the government.  Yikes. We unfortunately ended up giving some money to the government while there because Zach developed what I lovely called the communist cough; he was pretty darn sick for a few days and was in need of some meds that were no over the counter.  Luckily, you don’t need a prescription to get medicine from a pharmacy there, and so we went to the Rx around the corner, explained his symptoms to the nice lady behind the counter, and was able to get antibiotics and hard core cough meds in less then 5 minutes.  Yay Communist Cough.

Despite the government, Vietnam was amazing!   It was so incredibly cheap (a bowl of Pho was $1-2 dollars, a beer less then $1).  And Vietnamese coffee has ruined me for LIFE.  Because milk was so scarce during the wars, they figured out that using condensed milk was a tasty alternative to flavoring their coffee.  In Hanoi,  they are famous for their egg coffee, where they whip an egg yolk for 10 minutes until light and frothy and then pour the coffee over it to cook the egg.  The result is decedent and amazing.  Seriously.  All other coffee sucks after drinking coffee in Vietnam. img_2473img_2521img_2587

While in the south, we also toured a tunnel system the Viet Cong and villagers used during the war to wage war against the US and survive our Agent Orange attacks.  It was fascinating.  The system of tunnels we saw was home to up to 20000 people at one point and they widened the tunnel we were pictured in below by 40% so tourist can fit.  People living in those tunnels had severe health issues as a result, but it provided them a way to survive a brutal war without leaving their village.  Of course, this site is maintained by the government and so propaganda was heavy here as well.  We watched a video where villagers were celebrated as “American Killers” and how the Viet Cong were a simple and kind people just trying to gain their freedom.  It was uncanny to watch, and our tour guide again warned us and said if we didn’t want to watch, that was fine.  But we sat through all 12 minutes of it because even if it didn’t paint the entire picture, its always good to listen to another point of view.

Another thing I learned about Vietnam was just how long of a country it is.  Whereas our flight from Cambodia to Vietnam was only 45 minutes, our flight from Saigon to Hanoi was 2 hours long.  Hanoi is considered the “little Paris” of Southeast Asia, and you can definitely see where the French occupied the city for almost 100 years.  Even though the French were not kind to the Vietnamese during their time there, the people of the area still build houses replicating the French architecture of Hanoi.  It was absolutely gorgeous to see.  Where Saigon was more of a modern city with skyscrapers and the like, Hanoi is an old world town with tons of character showing its storied past with all the motor bike traffic of a large city.  We toured a Taoist temple, the prison where the French tortured and killed thousands of Vietnamese and later housed US prisoners of war, including the late John McCain, and also had the please of eating at the same restaurant that Anthony Bourdain and President Obama ate at.  It is a great point of pride for the country and the Bun Cha was AMAZING!  Probably one of the best meals we had in Vietnam.  And all for the hefty price of $3 a bowl. img_2596img_2707img_2706img_2593img_2581img_2582img_2583

Overall, my favorite part of the Vietnam portion of our trip was a cruise we took to Ha Long Bay.  It was absolutely breathtaking,  and pictures most certainly do not do it justice.  We kayaked, saw monkeys in the wild, went squid fishing, and got to tour a fishing farm to see how the locals live off the land to make a living.    You will notice that it looks foggy in most of my pictures, and unfortunately, that is smog.  The last two days in Vietnam were awful for air quality, and honestly, at the airport it was the worst I have ever seen it since moving to Asia.  This makes me infinitely sad because even though air quality isn’t great in Korea, I had it in my head that we would be able to take a quick flight to another country in Asia to get a breathe of fresh air.  That is absolutely not reality.  Thailand is experimenting with drones creating artificial rain right now because the smog has gotten so bad currently.  So though it was absolutely gorgeous, it was also bitter sweet to see the area tainted by pollution.  But as everyone is making enemies with China, companies are figuring out that the government in Vietnam is very open to manufacturing in the country, and at a fraction of the cost, so companies like Cannon and Samsung now have their largest manufacturing facilities in the world right outside Hanoi.  And the people and environment are suffering because our tour guide was explaining to us that there is absolutely no regulation on this companies, and so they dump and pollute as they see fit.  It was horrific to drive through on the way to the airport.  People living near these areas are developing cancer and other medical concerns in a higher concentration then other parts of the country but the government does not care because it is bringing money into the country.  So the people are frustrated.  And rightfully so. img_2599img_2601img_2634img_2687img_2675img_2699img_2697img_2703img_2633img_2624

Overall, I would absolutely recommend going to Vietnam, and quite honestly, if we had more time in Asia, we would love to go back.  We only scratched the surface and overall it was an amazing experience.  The people are amazing, the culture is colorful and fun, and they are so proud of how far they have come after such a tough past.

Right now, Zach and I are gearing up for him to be gone for the next two weeks and then navigate his crazy work schedule going though March and April.  One of our friends from DC is coming to visit in April (YAY!!!!!)  and we may have a visitor in March (stay tuned), so we will be in Korea for the next couple of months.  As soon as Zach can get some leave on the calendar, I think we are going to hit Japan next so I can live like a Geisha for a few days (so excited!!!!!).

Right now Korea is gearing up for Lunar New Year (Chinese new year, but you know, no one likes China anymore), so its been interesting seeing all the preparations in both Vietnam and Korea over the past view weeks.  Its the year of the pig and Lunar New Year is like our Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years combined so everything will be shut down starting Tuesday (including post! yay).

So don’t be surprised if you get more messages from me then normal starting this week (I will be bored with Zach being gone)….consider yourselves warned!  Anyways, that’s all for now.  Hope all is well with you all.   Until next time….img_2474img_1668img_2524img_2523

Cambodia Vacation

Hello All!

As most of you know, Zach and I just got back from spending 10 days in Cambodia and Vietnam.  We saw and learned so much, and because of this, I am going to do two separate blogs on each country, because otherwise I feel I would be doing an injustice to what we experienced in our adventures.

Ever since I can remember, Cambodia has been on the top of my travel bucket list because of the temples at Angkor Wat.  I’m not sure when I first learned these temples existed, but I do know it was well before Tomb Raider made it popular back in 2001 (the one with Angelina Jolie). So naturally, Cambodia was one of the first countries we wanted to see while living in Asia when we were able to get away for more than a few days.

I will be completely honest with you in saying besides the existence of Angkor Wat, and hearing murmurings of the killing fields in Cambodia, I really didn’t know a lot about the country as a whole or its history.  We flew into Siem Reap, which is not far from where the temples are, and because of time restraints, stayed in that area during our time in Cambodia.  We were 100% surprised to learn that though Cambodia has its own currency, the US dollar is the preferred currency and is accepted everywhere, and because their currency has very little value, it was given as change since there are no coin currency as far as we could tell.  We tried paying with what little Cambodia money we got while there, and were surprised to find that most businesses would not accept it as payment.  That being said, the US dollar goes a long way in Cambodia.  Beers in downtown Siem Reap were 50 cents, and a 15 minute tuk tuk ride from our hotel to downtown was about 2 dollars.  We had a bit of downtime while in Cambodia, and so Zach and I treated ourselves to a spa morning at our hotel, where we were pampered for FOUR hours with a body scrub, body wrap, full body massage, AND facial, all for the price of $100 each.  It was luxurious and so very relaxing, and that price was too good to pass up!   The food was amazing and cheap as well, and we tried a local favorite, Amok, several times for the hefty price of $2 per bowl.  IMG_2369

Our first full day in country was of course spent in Angkor Wat, and though we spent an entire day there, I could have easily gone back for a few more days.  It is considered to be one of the largest religious monuments in the world, and was built in the 12th century.  It is estimated that it took almost 40 years to complete and was constructed by almost 300,000 people and thousands of elephants.  Upon completion, it is estimated that almost one million people lived at the complex.  To put this in perspective for you, at the same time in history, it is estimated that there were only about 50,000 people living in London.  Mind. Blown. IMG_2315IMG_2325IMG_2234IMG_2334IMG_2331IMG_2346IMG_2342

Angkor Wat was built as a Hindu temple and then later converted to a Buddhist temple, and then again converted to a Hindu temple before it was abandoned and lost for about 300 years before being rediscovered in the 1800’s by a French scientist who was looking for butterflies in the jungle.  The religious war between the Hindu and Buddhist of the country are evident in the temple throughout, and because of its bloody history, most Cambodian’s consider themselves both Buddhist and Hindu, adopting philosophy and tradition from both.  There are relics from both religions present there today, and we even had a Buddhist monk bless us with holy water while at Angkor Wat.   Though there is a sense of harmony now, most of the Buddha statues in the temples are either missing or beheaded, and you can see where his carvings have been removed and replaced with a Hindu god over the years.

Despite all the evidence of religious upheaval and discord, the temples are still absolutely breathtaking, and several different countries are pitching in to help with restoration efforts and research to learn more about the temple complex.  There is evidence of the temple being painted in vibrant colors and you can see the divots in the walls where thousands of precious jewels have been stolen over the years.   It was kind of unbelievable to be standing there, taking it in, and knowing it was built in the 12th century.  There are hand carved murals throughout the temples, depicting anything from religious scenes to evidence that the origins of what we know as MMA fighting had its roots in the area.

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Along with evidence of age and religious civil war in the country, there is also evidence of the Khmer Rogue Regime in the temples, as they often took cover in the area, knowing that the age and splendor of the complex would deter forces from engaging with them while they hid.  You can see bullet holes from the AK-47s used in conflict throughout Angkor Wat, and there are still landmines throughout the area, as Cambodia has the most active landmines of any other country in the world.  They have recently re-discovered two more temples deep in the jungle, however, they are not open to the pubic because of all the landmines in the area.  Though the buildings themselves are so impressive and beautiful, there were so many signs of the struggle Cambodia and its people have endured throughout the complex.  (you can see the bullet holes in the picture below)IMG_2289-1

Not far from our hotel, we took a short drive to see and learn about the killing fields in Cambodia, which was by far the hardest part of our trip, at least for me.  In the 70’s while most of the world had its eyes on what was going on in Vietnam, Cambodia was going through a civil war of its own, where the communist party of the country, known as the Khmer Rogue, who were supported by the North Vietnamese army, were attempting to overthrow the current government.  In 1975, there were successful, and for 4 years, this regime murdered over 25% of the Cambodian population.  Our tour guide, Sam, lost 25 family members during this time, and though he was eager to educate us about the time and why the genocide happened, he would not go to the killing fields with us, and understandably so.  This regime believed in self-sustainment of the people, and so thousands of people died of hunger and disease because they were expected to be able to feed themselves and create their own medicine.  Those who were against the regime, who were educated, who wore glasses, were executed.  There are hundreds of sites throughout Cambodia where thousands upon thousands of Cambodians lost their lives to the hands of this regime, and human bones are still found throughout the countryside to this day.  Sam, our tour guide, explained that most Cambodians view this regime as more cruel then Hitler and ISIS combined, as they were known to tie people to trees, and then mutilate and even EAT their victims while they slowly died.  25% of the population wiped out in 4 years.  The site we visited is home to a pagoda where human bones are on display so that family members can come and honor their loved ones.  It is estimated that 8,000 Cambodian’s lost their lives in this location alone.  I only took one picture here, because it felt wrong to take any more, but I also wanted to be able to share what we saw and what we learned.  Our tour guide shares the story of those years with his guest because he doesn’t want the same thing to ever happen again, and he believes that educating the world of what the Khmer Rogue Regime did is the best way to do that, and so, in honor of him and his family he lost, I share their story here. IMG_2387

Though Cambodia has come a long way from those dark years of the regime, the government is very much corrupt and the people of Cambodia struggle to makes ends meet for the most part.  Though everything from tours to food and beer were dirt cheap in terms of what I am used to, the poverty and living conditions that the people endure is hard to ignore while you are there.  On top of a corrupt government, the people also have to fight a rainy season that hinders their day to day activities.  We visited a floating village on a near by lake and it was incredible to see, and we were also told that during rainy season, these villagers move their houses on the lake in order to survive and to be able to fish for a living.  In the picture below, you can see a few buildings on tall stilts to accommodate the rainy season, but for the most part, they just up and move their operations for half the year. IMG_2414

Despite the poverty, despite the gruesome history, I highly recommend a trip to Cambodia.  We spent 4 short days there and feel like we only scratched the surface.  I’ve heard the coastline boasts amazing beaches and the country itself is quite beautiful, though it was HOT AND HUMID for January, so beware.  But the people and their spirit were absolutely lovely,  and though part of the trip was learning the hard facts of their history, Siem Reap felt like a college town with a laid back attitude and all the beer your heart could desire for college student prices.  Lotus farms dot the horizon on the way to the floating village, and they were absolutely beautiful to see and experience.   And ANGKOR WAT did not disappoint by any stretch of the imagination.  Pictures seriously don’t do it justice and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go to one of my top bucket list places.

 

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So as you can see, lots of info for just Cambodia, and not one mention of the other half of our trip in Vietnam.  I will try to put that blog together in the next couple of days as I get back into the swing of things.   Classes start back up this week for me and Zach is already back to the grind.

Until next time, peeps..

Hello, 2019!

Hope everyone is having a good start to 2019!  Zach and I have been laying low since we leave for vacation in 3 days, but all in all its been a good start to the year and we are excited to explore 2 new countries in a few days.

Zach and I brought in the new year with some friends of ours, and in doing so we learned that Korean’s bring in the new year by watching the first sunrise of the year.  It was pretty neat seeing all the pictures of the sunrise the following day on social media, and maybe next year we will partake in that tradition.  Since we didn’t learn about this until right before midnight, there was no way we were waking up to see that sunrise…hey, at least I’m honest.  Instead of watching the ball drop, we watched them ring a bell in downtown Seoul to symbolize the new year.  I have to say, it was kind of weird being 14 hours ahead of the East Coast, but still a fun night overall.

We have officially been in Korea for 6 months now, and though the honeymoon stage is over, overall its still been a great experience; its hard to believe our time here is a fourth of the way over!  I guess time flies when you are busy exploring.  I will say that now that the newness has worn off, I’ve been noticing some things that I didn’t in the beginning, and its been pretty eye opening to say the least…

I know racism and nationalism is not something that is only found in the United States, and quite honestly found all over the world, but I will say I was pretty naïve to how prominent those two sentiments are here in Asia.  I had no idea that the Koreans don’t like the Japanese, that the Filipinos don’t like Koreans, and NO ONE likes China.  Seriously, no one likes the Chinese, but everyone happily takes their money because they are big vacationers.  When we were on our honeymoon in Bali, our tour guide made a few off hand comments about the Chinese during our trip, but I kind of just brushed it off, thinking nothing of it.  When we went to Malaysia in November,  both tour guides we had made off hand comments about the Chinese.  Its been eye opening. Right now, there are signs right outside the main gate professing hate towards China.  People actually paid money to print “we hate China” signs.  Multiple signs.  Its a little intense.  Needless to say, its been very interesting observing and learning about why these cultures hold negative feelings towards each other and seeing it play out as we travel and live our lives here in Asia. IMG_2204

In many of my blog entries, I have reiterated how accommodating and nice the Koreans have been towards us, the foreigners as we are called, and that still holds true to what I have experienced so far.  However,  I have been hearing stories about Americans being denied service at various establishments in Seoul,  and even here in Pyeongtaek.  We met a couple at a party a few months ago and they had been in Seoul the night before and were kicked out of a bar for being foreigners.  I have seen posts on our spouse’s Facebook page about this happening to others as well.  And of course these individuals have been outraged: how dare they! Is this normal?   Its also been interesting to see that all of these people who have either posted on the Facebook page or that I met with these stories were all Caucasian.  I couldn’t help but find the irony in the situation being that shit like this happens all the time to people who have a darker skin complexion.  I might have internally said to myself “oh you poor thing…you don’t like that???”  I remember when I first moved to Virginia, I had a friend in school who wasn’t allowed to come to my house because my Dad had some color to his skin.   I didn’t know what racism was until then, because I grew up with a Caucasian Mom and a Puerto Rican Dad…I just didn’t see color.  I lived my life blissfully unaware of assholes like that until I was 15 years old… Thanks Virginia. So, like I said, its been fascinating to see people be the victim to that kind of mentality for the first time and how outraged they have been in response.  And don’t get me wrong, it sucks that it exists and that it happens, and I was really surprised to hear that it was happening here in Korea towards us foreigners, but seriously, worse shit has happened in our own country.  I am by no means belittling what happened to them here, because it does suck,  but a part of me finds it ironic. If that makes me an asshole, so be it. At least I own it.  And then, ironically, I was walking to post just the other day and noticed  “Koreans Only” painted on a door not even 3 blocks from base.   The things that become obvious when you are in tune with an issue; I have literally walked by that “Koreans Only” sign  for 6 months without noticing it. IMG_2203

 

But you know what?  Right outside of base feels a little like an American shopping center…everything is in English, there are all kinds of restaurants and shops that make it feel like home,  and we as a foreign population make little to no effort to learn the language while we are here, not only taking advantage of the hospitality we are shown, but also expecting it.  So shame on us.  While it sucks that there are places that I am not welcome at here in Korea, I kind of get it.  And honestly, I don’t WANT to go somewhere I’m not welcome.  So as much as I hate that it even exists, I’m not up in arms about it like some of my peers are, because overall I have been showered with nothing but kindness and warmth from the Koreans, but realistically I can’t expect for every Korean to be happy we are here and welcome us with open arms.  We have to remind ourselves that we are guest in this country, and unfortunately some of our peers act like grade A jackasses while here, making a bad name for those of us who are respectful of our time here.  Because of these shenanigans, we have curfew and there are establishments that are anti-foreigner:  I’m not going to let that hinder the awesome experience I am having so far, but I will definitely be more mindful  while out and about in Korea to make sure I am wandering into places where I am welcome.

Hope I didn’t ruffle too many feathers with this post, but the purpose of this blog is to share my experience here in Korea: good, bad, and ugly.  And unfortunately, I am learning that there is an ugly side of Korea, but luckily I haven’t witnessed it personally directed at me.  I can only keep treating my fellow humans just as that, humans, and hope that this way of thinking is contagious.

Next blog entry will be about our upcoming adventures in Cambodia and Vietnam!  I am so dang excited for this trip!  After that, we will be taking a few month break from traveling; Zach’s work schedule is cray cray for the next few months and we aren’t made of money LOL.

Until next time…

 

 

Bye 2018

Sorry its been awhile since my last blog post, just hasn’t been a lot going on and if I’m being honest,  I’ve been feeling more bah humbug then jolly this past month.    2018 was definitely a roller coaster of a year, and though there were some pretty awesome things that happened (I mean, I’m living in Korea!), there have also been some stuff that has not been so fun, and I’m ready to say goodbye to 2018.

I think it’s safe to say that the honeymoon period is officially over, and the things that come with living abroad that were different or exotic in the first few months have officially become inconvenient and annoying.  Its also been incredibly eye opening how much a 14 hour time difference has made it seem impossible to get a hold of people who used to be solid fixtures in my life.  But its also been fun learning about all the different apps that make connecting so easy, no matter the time difference, and though I have been surprised by the radio silence by some, I have been more then blessed with amazing people who make an effort to continue to be apart of this great adventure (Snapchat filters are my new favorite means of communication!  LOL).    Some of the not so fun parts of living in Korea aside from the time difference:

  • All soldiers here have a curfew, and so from the hours of midnight to 5am, Zach must be either at home or in for the night where ever he may be in Korea during that time frame. If soldiers are found busting curfew, there are severe consequences so its not something to mess with.  And though that really doesn’t effect us most days (because I value sleep! haha),  this was a bit of a hassle for the Army Navy game.  Because of that beloved time difference, the game started at 5am our time.  There is a bar/restaurant on post that was hosting a watch party, with doors opening at 4am.  In order for Zach to be able to get on post before curfew to watch the game, he had to get a leave form signed granting permission to come on post before 5am.  Seriously.  Though I understand why curfew is in place, it feels like we are being treated like children.   New Years Eve will also be a pain since technically he can’t be out and about after midnight.  Curfew does not apply to dependents, but you know, solidarity and all.  So we will most likely be having a low key NYE as to set a good example for all the younger folks out there.  booooo.
  • Koreans drivers.  No matter what I describe to you in these next few sentences, I don’t think you can fully understand how crazy these people are behind the wheel unless you experience it.  Before we moved here, I read about how the drivers were and thought to myself, no big deal, I’ve driven in New York City, it will be fine.  It is not fine.  They are crazy here.   Red lights are suggestions if there is no traffic camera and blinking red lights mean GO here.  I have been stopped at a red light like a good law abiding citizen multiple times and had the car behind me go around me (by going over the median) to run the red light with traffic flowing.  Its insane.  And exhausting because you really can’t be a distracted driver here.  At all.  Hopefully I don’t forget all the rules of driving in the next 18 months.  I have a huge fear of forgetting what flashing red lights mean once I get back to the states.
  • The air quality just simply blows.  I’ve been sick all week because we have had poor air quality for the past month, and because I walk everywhere around town, I think it finally got to me.  It really sucks because there is really nothing you can do about it except to limit how much you go outside, but its no fun being cooped up when you have elephants live above you….ok, they aren’t elephants, but it sounds like it.  I can’t wait for school to start back up! haha.  Let’s just say Zach and I will only be living in single family homes, townhouses, or the top floor for the rest of our lives.  Lesson learned.
  • The price of produce is too damn high here.  Don’t get me wrong, we get a cost of living allowance every month, but I can’t seem to find it in me to pay $8.29 for a pack of strawberries, $7.19 for a head of cauliflower,  $3.29 for ONE avocado, and $6.00 for a head of lettuce. And since the commissary charges these prices, the local markets sell these items, but only slightly cheaper, so in the end, its all still a rip off.  I miss avocados. Every once in a while I break down and buy one.  Usually they aren’t good quality.  This one pictured below is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in Asia.  I might have cried for joy when I cut into it.  IMG_1797

Speaking of strawberries, Korea grows strawberries in greenhouses and they are in season December and January.  One day at the local market, there were packs of strawberries for sale for little over 5 dollars which is a steal compared to the price on post.  So I caved and bought a pack.  Best. Decision. Ever.  These strawberries are quite literally the best I have ever had.   So now I begrudgedly pay $6 for a pack of strawberries since they are in season, but they are so damn good.  #takeallmymoney

I just wrapped up another semester, and only have 3 more classes between me and graduation.  I took 6 classes this semester, and it kicked my ass.  But I’m happy to report that somehow I managed to pull off straight A’s, and as long as I survive my capstone, I will be receiving my MBA in May.  One more semester.

Even though Zach is supposed to be working half days until the end of the year, that really hasn’t panned out so we have been pretty low key and just relaxing for the most part these last two weeks.   We leave for Cambodia and Vietnam in 2 weeks and I am so excited to escape the cold and shitty air for 10 days and I know Zach is ready for vacation for sure (its 10:30pm right now and he is still at work….half days my ass)

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I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas, and have a safe and fun New Years!  Until next year….

 

Kota Kinabalu

When Zach and I first learned his next duty station was Korea, I was immediately excited about all the travel opportunities we were going to have while living here.  My list of places to visit is endless, and I know we won’t make it to all of them with already 6 months of our 2 years here gone.  Since our easy bake oven would never fit a turkey, and Zach’s boss already claimed Christmas to go on vacation, we decided that Thanksgiving would be a good opportunity to take our first big trip. Initially, we had our sights set on the Philippines, but Uncle Sam doesn’t allow soldiers to travel to the area that we were interested in going. So I started asking around for ideas, and a friend of mine suggested Kota Kinabalu.  I’ll be honest, I had never heard of KK until my friend mentioned it, and if I’m being real honest, Malaysia wasn’t high on the list of places to travel to while we were here.   But after doing some research, Zach and I were both sold on going for our Thanksgiving holiday:  it is a direct flight from Korea, there was a brand new Marriott right on the water, there were tons of things to do and see, and it was well below our budget for the trip.  SOLD!

I highly recommend a trip to KK. Its a very popular vacation destination for the Chinese, Filipinos, and Koreans, and after going I can understand why.  The air is clear, the water is beautiful, and the landscape is breathtaking.  I’m not sure if this is true or not, and I really hope its not, but I’ve been told that KK is not a popular destination for westerners because 80% of the population practices Islam.  And I will tell you, the entire time there I felt completely underdressed compared to the majority of the women there, and tourist women definitely stuck out like a sore thumb.  There were several mosques throughout the city that were absolutely gorgeous and prayers were broadcasts on a loudspeaker throughout the city throughout the day.  It was lovely to see their dedication to their religion and it was really neat to learn and experience something new.  It was also interesting that pretty much everyone there speaks English, because the island at one point was a British colony.  The main language is Malayan, but most everyone speaks a little English and so it was super easy to get around and explore.

The US dollar goes a lonnnngggg way in KK.  When I booked our Marriott, I was surprised with how inexpensive it was, and then upon arriving, I was blown away with how inexpensive it was.  Zach and I were treated like royalty, and enjoyed an open bar every night, view overlooking the China Sea, and some of the best service we have ever gotten at a hotel.  We took a taxi to the wharf to go snorkeling and it costs less then a dollar for a 10 minute cab ride.  Needless to say, we felt like we were making it rain while we were there! haha.  We converted $200 to the local currency and didn’t come close to spending it all in 5 days.  So much bang for your buck.

 

 

 

Within walking distance on either side of our hotel were several open markets and shopping malls.  KK has a huge farmers market every Sunday, so unfortunately we didn’t get to witness that, but the street markets that were open every day were quite impressive.  You could buy anything from local fruits and vegetables, handmade jewelry and crafts, and there were also men that sat every few feet with sewing machines, where the locals come to get things made or altered.  It was incredible to see the detail they put in their work and how talented they were.   Had I known this was a thing, I probably would have had a dress made while we were there.  The other funny thing we noticed roaming through the streets of KK is that KFC is VERY popular there.  There is literally a KFC on every corner, or so it seems, and when we were driving out of the city, there were signs that would tell you how far you were from the nearest KFC.  Seriously.  They love that chicken apparently. img_1911img_1841img_1914img_1915img_1807img_1808img_1840

We didn’t go to a KFC (but I will admit we ate at a Hard Rock Café so I could have nachos!), we did eat at one of the night markets.  Zach got to pick out his snapper from the counter and they cooked it right there for him.  It was pretty incredible.  I will say, Malaysian food is not my favorite.  Don’t get me wrong, its not awful by any means, its very standard Asian cuisine, heavy in noodle and rice dishes, but I just didn’t think the food had as much flavor.  Every where you go, each table had a set of 4 different sauces, and I definitely was thankful for those sauces, otherwise the meals would have been pretty bland.  Our meal at the market, which consisted of the fresh fish, local chicken, and 2 beverages costs us a total of $11.  That’s it.  So though I’m not dying to go back for the food, I will happily pay 11 bucks for the both of us to eat dinner any day.

 

 

 

We booked two tours to do while we were there, and if you haven’t heard of Viator.com, I highly recommend checking them out.  I was able to book both tours before hand with local companies, and for a reasonable price, they picked us up at the hotel, took us on our excursion, and then brought us back to the hotel.  Viator works all around the world, and it is a great way to see what activities are available where you live or are traveling too.  Our first tour took us to Mt.  Kinabalu, which is a good 2 hour drive from KK.  We were the only ones booked for the tour that day, so it was a private tour with one of the locals who was born and raised not too far from KK.  Initially, we had hopes of hiking Mt. Kinabalu, but they only allow 120 people to hike per day and you have to book it months in advanced. So instead, we opted to explore the rainforest at its base and hoped to see the world’s largest flower while we were there.  Our tour guide was phenomenal, and we had the opportunity to check out the mountain from various view points, wonder through the rainforest that boosts over 1000 varieties of Orchids, and he found us 2 blooming Rafflesias.  Since it was just us on the tour, he was able to share some insight into the culture of the area and  learn about him.  The further inland we drove, the more Christian churches we began to notice.  He explained that he is a member of one of the island’s original 30 tribes, and those tribes were subjected to missionaries who converted them to Christianity in the 1970’s.  His dad’s tribe was the headhunter tribe, and they were the war makers of the island who protected the territory and were known to use machetes to decapitate anyone who encroached on the land.  You could tell this tribe apart from the others on the island because all the men were covered in tattoos and had earrings in both ears.  Though this tribe no longer head hunts, members still get tattoos and pierce their ears to pay respect to their tribe; our tour guide proudly showed off his tattoos and explained he still has his grandfather’s machete (don’t worry, he is a devout Christian now!)   Our tour guide also explained to us that he was fluent in 5 different languages:  English, which he spoke perfectly, as well as Malayan, and then 3 different tribe languages, since his wife is a descendent of a different tribe, and not the headhunter one he is from.

 

Our second excursion was snorkeling.  There is a series of 5 islands that are a protected refuge that you can take a 20 minute boat ride too.  We saw soooo many varieties of coral, we found nemo and dory, and at the end a huge school of needlefish that seemed to have an electric glow to them.  It was amazing.  And though it was beautiful, it was depressing at the same time because there was so much trash in the water. Not as bad as what we saw in Bali, but enough that made me a touch sad.  So as I was swimming, I would pick up the various plastic bags and bottles, and the fish would come right up to me because they thought it was food.  So though I got an up close look at lots of fishies, it was mostly because they thought the trash I was collecting was food.  My PSA:  Don’t be a litter bug.

 

The last full day we had in KK, we made no plans and just relaxed, enjoyed the pool, watched the sunset, and went to a light festival that was right on the water.  Though 80% of KK is Muslim, the city still caters to Christianity and there were tons of Christmas displays throughout.  I had read that Malaysia is a bit of a mixing bowl of different cultures and religions and they somehow all get along and celebrate each other’s holidays together, so it was really awesome to see this first hand.  Never once did I feel like I was being judged for not covering my head, elbows and knees, and it was kind of amazing to see a city 80% Islamic cater to the 5% that are Christians.

 

All and All, I really enjoyed visiting KK and really recommend it if you are looking for an affordable paradise that has a ton to offer.  It was a much needed break from the Korean air, and the sunset every night was magnificent.  So now its back to the grind but we are looking forward to our next trip, which will be in January, when we visit Cambodia and Vietnam.  We will be staying here for Christmas and looking forward to a low key holiday with a few day trips up to Seoul.

Until next time peeps….

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Captain Planet, He’s our Hero….

Hello Everyone!

Hope everyone is doing well!  Its been a bit of a slow week here, mostly due to excess pollution making it hard to be outside, so sorry its been a while since I’ve posted.  This week has been a bit next level with having to deal with air quality, so I figured I would tell you a little bit about my experience of it.

After we found out that we were coming to Korea, I started diving into research to find out what to expect.  The biggest thing that came out of that research aside from culture differences, was the air quality.  Because of the way the jet stream runs in this part of the world, it picks up dust from the Gobi Desert, and then passes through China, where those dust particles pick up pollution, and then get pushed to Korea.  According to what I read initially, air quality wasn’t something we really had to worry about until the Spring.  So I was completely surprised to learn that air quality is pretty much an issue year around except for in the summer, and then the humidity and heat pick up the slack for making going outside awful.  In order for me to come along with Zach, I had to be medially screened in order to be deemed healthy enough to make the journey.  I remember that doctor asking me like 5 different times if I suffered from asthma, which at the time I thought was a little over kill.  Plus, he was looking at my medical file and there is no instance of me being treated for asthma ever, but you know, I guess captain obvious didn’t have room in that screening! haha.  After the last week here though, I get it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m going to die immediately from breathing the air, since I am a healthy individual.  But even with wearing an air mask this week, my throat still burns.  If you are a runner and have ever run outside during the winter and get that burning sensation in your chest, that’s how I feel right now.   There are reports of pink eye going around because of the gunk in the air, and people who have respiratory issues to begin with really suffer under these conditions.  The air quality was so bad on Wednesday that Seoul mandated that only cars with license plates ending in odd numbers could be on the road, public parking lots were closed as a deterrent to keep cars off the road, diesel engine vehicles were banned for the day, and public transportation was free to help people get around in an effort to not make the air quality worse.   I have two apps that help me keep track of air quality, one that rates the quality from green, yellow, orange, then red (red is no good), and another one that mathematically calculates how bad the air the air is by equating it to cigarettes smoked if you breathe the air without a mask.  Wednesday was the equivalent of 8.5 cigarettes.  Hooray pollution (don’t I make that air mask look good???  HAHAHA)

 

Those of you who know me, know that I am a tree hugger through and through (captain planet was most definitely one of my favorite childhood cartoons! See, it started early). I will give you side eye for using plastic bags for your produce in the grocery store (yes, I openly judge you EVERY TIME, but here is a great solution that won’t hurt your wallet),  I have been known to take all the empty wine bottles after wine club to make sure they get recycled, though I’m sure we could apply and get a second car here, I am enjoying my lessened carbon footprint on the world by going carless these next two years, and I most definitely will say something to you if I witness you littering (especially if you are in a national park…get it together!).  I’ve always believed that humans can most certainly have a negative impact on Mother Earth, and living in Korea has really opened my eyes to the reality of that fact.   For all of you that may have been annoyed with my tree hugging ways, I’m here to tell you that my experience here in Korea has only amplified this for me.  When you have to plan your week around air quality so you don’t feel like crap, you start to look up the reasons why air quality is so bad and how it can be prevented.  When I see news articles about our President dismissing the fact that human activity has an affect on the environment, it pisses me off.  If you are one of those who doesn’t think we as humans make a difference in the environment, I dare you to come over here to Korea on a bad air day without an air mask and talk to me about your beliefs and see if you don’t feel like a liar.  Seriously.  I dare you.  Its easy to write it off when it doesn’t necessarily impact you at the moment (believe me, I am guilty of that, then I witnessed smog in Korea and changed my mind).  I get it, making companies be environmentally responsible is not cheap and it raises the costs of goods and services. But I’ve said it once, and I will say it again, I’m ok with paying a little more for goods and services if it means manufacturers can limit their footprint on the air and water that I breath and drink.  I guess at the end of the day, it comes down to how much you value clean air and water.  Before moving here, I would say that I wasn’t overly concerned about regulating companies for the purpose of clean air and water….I mean, logically it makes sense, but is it really necessary in the United States?  But after the past week of continuous bad air (thanks everything made in China), I am know for a fact I am more than ok to pay a pretty penny to breathe fresh air.  Because breathing sucky air just sucks.  And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it once it’s bad except wait for it to pass or hope for rain.  And thank God its raining today.   I literally went for a walk today in the rain to get fresh air.  So have I changed my mind about regulating manufacturers???? HELL YES I HAVE.  Take all my money.

Other big thing going on right now is USFK is having a change of command today, and with that has come elevated protest activity among those who are not happy that we are here in Korea.  Most of these protests are peaceful, and countered with pro America groups, but over the weekend one group got a little over zealous and were throwing objects, resulting in a gate to close until authorities could get the situation under control.  Its been interesting to sit back and watch and at the same time kind of sad to see the stereotype of how some Koreans see us as a whole.  The Pro-America group was blasting “beer for my horses” as their theme song today as they counter protested the anti-USFK group near the main gate today.  Yikes.  But don’t worry, we usually get plenty of notice of these protests and for the most part they are mostly just entertaining and not violent, but its definitely been a spotlight in the events of this past week.

Otherwise, its going to be a pretty low key week and a half, but then we will be spending Thanksgiving in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.  I’m so excited to get to explore somewhere completely new and get away from the air pollution, even if for a few days.

So until next time, breathe easy my friends.