Category Archives: Travel

Goodbye Ireland!

Originally written on 16 May, 2016, as I was leaving Ireland:

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Just a few of the amazing places I’ve been…

What’s the word for “goodbye”, “I’ll be back”, “I’m already missing here”, “thanks for all the memories”, and “I fell in love with this place”? I’m having trouble finding one!
Ireland has been an amazing place to spend four months, and I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to come, study, and travel from Dublin. The people – even strangers – have been so loving and generous. I’ve made wonderful, amazing friends who I love and will miss terribly. The natural beauty is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Ireland’s history is amazing and I feel so fortunate to have witnessed the 1916 centennial, visited museums, and participated in the census.
At times, time passed very slowly. I didn’t always liked my professors and missed people back home. But looking back, the time has passed so fast. I can’t believe it’s time to go, and wish I could stay longer. There are so many places I would love to see, and things I would love to do still, especially around Ireland.
Getting to Dublin was much more difficult than some other people coming here, or other places abroad. My friend Macy (not her real name) who came with me from Gordon applied with me, and it was a tough process. We had to petition to come to Ireland, since Gordon didn’t already have a programme set up – so we had to make sure credits would transfer, confirm UCD was safe, etc. etc. – all to say that process wasn’t easy. But I don’t regret that process; it was all worth it.
I have so many mixed emotions as I go; I’m not sure exactly what I feel. I’ve felt this way before: leaving China after 6 weeks (I think it was 6!), Gordon, sleep-away camp… but those were usually for shorter periods of time or about the same, and I always knew I would be back. In Ireland, my stay was comparatively much longer, and farther away, and I’m not sure the next time I will be back in this beautiful country.
Despite the uncertainties, I do know for certain: My heart will always have a place here. Thanks for everything.

wicklow

The grass is actually greener here.

P.S. If you are ever studying in or travelling to Ireland (especially Dublin) on holiday or travel and need some tips, I would love to be of help! Send me a message or comment below! ūüôā

Travel and Technology

Technology is an amazing thing. It’s so powerful, and has the ability to connect in so many ways. But strangely enough, I’ve found it also has the power to disconnect. Let me explain.

From my experience, I’ve always noticed that when I put the camera (or in my case, iPhone camera) away, so that I can experience a location Рthat is, breathe in,

La Giralda

Amazing find in La Giralda cathedral – Sevilla, Spain

breathe out the place and enjoy it to its fullest Рit makes so much more of a difference. I often times find myself so consumed with taking pictures, trying to remember all of this that I’m seeing because it’s all so amazing! But I also need to remember to put it down, and really connect with the place. It’s hard to do sometimes, but it’s so worth it!

I also connect with a place by utilising all five of my senses. Breathe in, breathe out. What am I feeling Рon my face, fingertips, feet? What am I touching? What do I smell? Taste? Hear? See? I try to pause to ask myself these questions whenever I see something beautiful, or am at a location or experience I really want to remember. I give myself a little time to take pictures, but then I want to feel the wind in my hair, hear the water or the scent of local coffee on the street in that moment. It’s not a moment a picture can capture.
Then there‚Äôs something else I‚Äôve been noticing – not the connection between traveller and camera, but between the traveller and a physically distant person. I spent a few nights at a friend who was studying in Sevilla, Spain. She was living with a host family and had two other international students living with her. The difference between those two girls was ginormous. The first – let‚Äôs call her Rachel – had invested everything in her time in Spain. Sure, she used her phone, but she put it away at the dinner table, and used it mostly for goodbye-selfies with her Spanish friends. The other girl, let‚Äôs call her Sarah, was constantly on her computer or phone, communicating with someone from home – Skyping, Facetime-ing, voice messaging, text messaging… it was as if the conversation between those physically absent from her presence where taking priority over the potential conversation between those in front of her.
Because I¬† stayed at the end of their programme, I got to see the how the girls felt about leaving. Rachel was torn up – she didn‚Äôt want to leave and was crying for a while on her last night. She told me¬†she would ‚Äúmove to Sevilla in a heartbeat‚ÄĚ. Sarah expressed that she couldn‚Äôt wait to get home, telling us about all the things she was excited to see and do once she got back. It was as if she had never really left her home.
My theory is that Rachel had experienced Sevilla to its fullest because she had fully invested herself and her time in the culture, people, and country. She had experienced love in the country, and love makes leaving hard. Sarah, on the other hand, experienced love at home and wasn’t ready to let go of that to experience something else in a foreign place fully. It came as no surprise to me to find that Rachel’s Spanish was much better than Sarah’s РRachel talked with her host mom and everyone at the dinner table in Spanish. She spoke English too, but it was a lot less than Sarah, who seemed to be using English much more than Spanish.
Technology brought Sarah close to those back home, but distanced her from the people right in front of her. Rachel limited her technology use so she was able to keep in touch with those far away, so that she was able to grow close to those nearby. This is a lesson for me – I want what Rachel had, and I realise now that technology can get in the way of that.
Sevilla bridge view

A breathtaking view in the La Giralda cathedral //Sevilla, Spain

“I read; I travel; I become.” -Derek Walcott

Around Dublin

I’ve been in Dublin a while¬†(okay, three months!), and as a result, I’ve been¬†familiarising myself with the local transportation. (Forgive my British/Irish English spellings if you’re not used to it, I just don’t want to be¬†THAT¬†American when writing, you know?) It’s good to be able to navigate a city when you love it, or you’re just learning to.¬†Here are a couple tips I would have for getting around Dublin – not just from UCD!

1. Bilingualism

One of the first things I noticed that took me by surprise was the English and Gaelic around. After looking more into it, it’s only the west coast of Ireland that really uses Gaelic, but Gaelic is still one of the official languages of the Republic of Ireland. Don’t worry, this won’t be a history lesson! (Personally, I think it makes a pretty cool one.¬†#historybuff¬†) As a result, you’ll be seeing street signs and bus stops with both the Gaelic and English name.

Trinity Library

Trinity College Library

2. AirCoach

Arriving to¬†Dublin, and getting to UCD, I took the AirCoach bus, which was¬†super¬†helpful. Comfortable seats, clean bathroom, storage for your luggage – it’s a long trip, but I really can’t complain. There are a few stops the bus makes along the way, but it’s a good way to get out from the airport for sure. (Cost is 10 euro round-trip.)

 

3. The Dublin Bus

I could go on about the buses around Dublin (there are several, many of them touristy or horse-and-carriage), but the Dublin Bus is the main, best way to get around. It¬†might be a tad confusing, but it’s easier when look up the timetables/schedules online beforehand. They also have an app! Fortunately for me (worst sense of direction here!), many of the bus stops have the bus number and destination on a screen, and¬†the amount of time expected on little screens at many of the stations.¬†Without a Leap Card (London equivalent to Oyster card), one bus ride to anywhere costs 2.70 euro. However, 3-day visitor Leap cards are available! See the link above for details.

4. Maps, etc.

The Spire

The Spire monument

 

Knowing the city is very helpful. Newfangled inventions like Google Maps help for sure, but it’s also good to know what you’re getting into ahead of time. My sense of direction is very bad, so¬†I need to know where I’m going and the general direction of where I’m headed. Or I take a more directionally-gifted friend with me, that always helps! The city centre is not too difficult to navigate, since it’s not a huge city (compared to NYC or Madrid), and you can walk almost everywhere. While there are some small roads that change names (very confusing!), having a map in hand, plus an Irish person nearby is all you need!¬†For me, Irish people are SUPER warm and welcoming, always ready to help out if you need directions. You can ask anyone on the street –¬†even Dublin Bus drivers are willing to help!

In other words… just go to Ireland! If your time is limited, I would highly encourage you to take a guided day trip tour outside Dublin (usually three locations for about 50 euro, available through several tour companies), even if you’re only around for two or three days. As much as I love Dublin, I feel that you¬†only really sense Ireland once you go outside the city.¬†It’s a BEAUTIFUL country and I don’t think you will regret it. I’ve been here three months, and I certainly don’t!

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Little Fish, Big Pond

I have a lot of post drafts on this blog. Some go back a long way, but others not so much. I feel like I want to say something, but I’m not exactly sure what or how. But since it’s March, I’m in Dublin, and I’m a girl meeting the world (not¬†just America and China), I figured I’d publish something! (I’m not going to post it all in one go, rather I will spread the posts out over time.)

For those who keep up with me on Facebook, you may have noticed that I’ve been posting a lot about travels – Dublin, Belfast, London, etc. while studying at University College Dublin (UCD). So I figured while I’m at it, I might as well document it here, for you! I will also be posting some hints and tips for you – especially my fellow study abroad-ers.

UCD.dorm

My room at UCD

The semester at UCD began at the end of January. I got into an on-campus apartment (Belgrove – super nice! Definitely would recommend), I¬†have gotten somewhat acquainted with the campus. UCD is a big school, so it’s impossible to know everything, everywhere – but transportation has been essential – more on that later. It technically still is in Dublin (after all: University College¬†Dublin), but it’s a bit farther from the city centre than I thought. I did a little research about how to get to the airport to UCD: turns out, there is a bus that goes straight from the airport to UCD! Perfect! It’s called AirCoach (tickets can be purchased at the airport and online), and it’s a bit of a ride, but it’s comfortable and direct!

As someone from Gordon College, a small school just north of Boston, I have to say UCD is very different. For starters, UCD has a population of about 32,000 students. That’s¬†30,000¬†more than Gordon! So yeah, little fish in a big pond. But I like more than the on-campus Starbucks. Travel, new friends, different cultures… I’m excited for what’s to come!

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” -Anonymous

Taiwan: Chinatown Island

Remember how I wrote about Christmas in China last year? It’s a little d√©j√†¬†vu-ey to be writing about being back in China over my winter break again, especially when I didn’t think I would be. (More on that later.) A little bit of Chinese history, to get us started. Before the 17th century, it was mainly inhabited by Chinese aborigines, so it’s got a bit of history all its own. However, in the 20th century Taiwan changed: it was relatively unaffected¬†by the political movements of the Communist Revolution, but it received a lot of the Chinese that decided to move¬†out. In fact, it is actually free from communist rule.¬†If you visit Taiwan today, you’ll find a lot of ‘traditional’ Chinese culture that was brought over and preserved. They were¬†allowed freedom, in a sense, to do their thing without a government and rule in flux. Kinda like an island of Chinatown, minus the fortune cookies, and plus 100% authentic food… Chinatown Island?¬†Well,¬†it’s not¬†that simple. There is still a tension between mainland China and the islands of Taiwan, and if you’re a history buff¬†like¬†me, go read more about it yourself! However, for my purposes right now, Taiwan will be very much like¬†China¬†and¬†Taiwan is¬†one¬†island. My point is, Taiwan has preserved some traditions of China in different ways. This is fantastic for: the lNight marketanguage, the sights, and (of course) the food. Disclaimer: while very Chinese, Taiwan also has a¬†Japanese influence – see Taiwan history for why that is. Don’t worry: it’s not too much,¬†just enough for you to get Japanese translations and eat good sushi at¬†the Night Market. ūüėČ

Now for a little geography! Taiwan is on the map for the Ring of Fire Рthat is, riding along the tectonic plates that continually rub against each other, creating mountains and valleys (depending on how they rub). For Taiwan, that has resulted in beautiful mountain ranges. Yesterday, I went and saw some. They are GORGEOUS. Yes, the water really is that color!

Hualian coast

While I have been to mountainous areas of China, I could never seem to create¬†in my mind the depictions of mountain ranges that Chinese¬†paintings do. Going here helped me¬†fill in the gaps.The pictures don’t do these views¬†justice.¬†I wish you could see these for yourself, they really are amazing!

You might be wondering: “What are you doing in Taiwan?” Well, you probably aren’t. But just in case you were, I’m here with my mom for 5 days as a part of her 50th birthday present. My dad flies a lot for his job, and¬†as a result, he has a lot of air miles that he can use for other trips. He allowed my mom to choose one destination and one person to go on a trip with her, as a birthday present (husband goals!). My mom said she wanted¬†to go to Taiwan, with me. Woo hoo! After I heard the news, I figured: if we’re going on a trip all the way out to Taiwan, why don’t we make a stop along the way and make a long layover? So with¬†a little sweet talk, we’re also going to Rome for 5 days – which I’m sure will be amazing. Yup, I am traveling a LOT!¬†Honestly, I’m pretty proud of myself for surviving more than 24 hours of travel, so I’ll write something about that eventually.¬†Regardless,¬†I still have 3 days in Taiwan (AKA Chinatown Island)!¬†I feel very privileged¬†and blessed to be here, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of my trip has in store. I’ll make sure to keep you posted!

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound and all that is in it -Psalm 96:11

Winter China 3: A Chinese Family

After our glorious days in XiShuangBanNa, we had to leave.¬†No vacation lasts forever, especially ones to tropical places! We took the plane to KunMing, followed by a transfer flight to NanJing, in¬†the JiangSu province – my mom’s hometown. The plan? To visit (albeit distant) relatives, friends, to¬†lavish on them gifts, and stuff ourselves at every meal. I mean, what else is there to do in China, besides to give & receive gifts and stuff yourself with food?

My dad decided that my mom should take the reins in JiangSu – as in, make all the travel arrangements and be the ‘tour guide’, something that my dad has always done. Was that¬†a good decision? Well, that is neither here nor there. All I can (or should…) say is that we had an adventure: wandering the streets to find a¬†hotel, figuring it all out as we went – and we eventually got to our destination. I don’t know about your family, but with my family, you just have to take things as they come. Almost nothing is a surprise to me, and I’ve just learned to go with the flow, keeping hopes high but expectations low. (hey, that rhymed!)

After getting off the flight, we searched for a dinner in NanJing, then decided we would get to our destination best by bus. So we boarded a bus for a few hours, and got off at ZhenJiang, my mom’s hometown. We wandered around a bit, and then found a place that seemed relatively decent to spend the night, and then went out for Papa John’s¬†with my mom’s cousin, aunt, and family. Yup, Papa John’s! (Although it is not quite as big as¬†Pizza Hut or KFC. KFC and McDonald’s are huge in China. But that’s irrelevant!) The next day, we went out for actual Chinese food. We went to lunch with the same cousins and aunt, as well as good¬†family friends. The days following consisted of more meals to stuff ourselves, attended by different people: more family, other friends, as well as a trip to Pearl Buck’s house along the way. Although that was an extremely brief summary, there are times I’m especially thankful and happy that I have Chinese heritage in me. My family and I talked a lot about Chinese culture – if you will, let me enlighten you on a couple aspects, on meals in particular, in case you’re ever hosting a meal in China:

  • The seating¬†around a round table at a meal is an essential part of the meal. The person sitting directly across from the door is the host. If it’s not the host, it’s the most important person in the room. At a fancy restaurant, their napkin will likely be the poofiest. The person sitting to their right is the most important guest; the person to their left is the second-most important guest. The seating arrangement rules¬†don’t end there – but I will, for both of our sakes.
  • It is VERY¬†important that you argue over who pays for the meal. Fight over who will bring out their wallet. The fight might become physical, and that’s okay. Continue to do argue as loudly obnoxiously as possible for as long as you can¬†until you sense that the fight could be a¬†fight¬†to the death. It is at that time¬†you can tell your guest(s) that the meal has already been paid for, or slide your wallet to the waitress.
  • Force food onto a guest or honored person’s¬†plate. It is extremely impolite to let a guest go hungry, so to make sure that doesn’t happen,¬†put food on their plate whenever a new dish joins the lazy Susan, or whenever you remember to. They will probably say that they do not need more food. Pay no attention – it doesn’t matter what they say; their plate needs food on it regardless of how full they say they are. Remember to honor your elders and those who are honored, so do the same to the them too. On the flip-side: as a guest, you should never finish your plate or bowl. If you do, you are insulting your host¬†by making it seem like they didn’t give you enough to eat. That would not be okay; do not finish your plate or bowl at all costs.
  • A concept derived from the above rule (never let a guest go hungry) is to ALWAYS¬†give and do far more than necessary. So your guests will most likely bring a gift of some kind – any kind, really, but¬†just so you know: chances are high that your gift will be food or tea-related, possibly extravagant and entirely unnecessary. But it’s the thought that counts. (Note to guest: never go without a gift to a dinner by invitation.) There might be a time when¬†actually want¬†some of these gifts (e.g. money or snacks for the train), but it is vital that you DO NOT accept any gifts right away. Make sure you say tell them that no, you DO NOT need or want these gifts at all,¬†that they are too generous and¬†good to you, it really is¬†okay – at¬†least three times. Once those three times have passed, you can then feel free to exhale loudly¬†and accept the gift with gratitude, thanking them many more times than necessary.

These rules seem ridiculous, but the Chinese people take them 100% seriously. In Eastern cultures, it is the host’s responsibility¬†to make the other¬†feel honored, welcomed and appreciated by sacrificing a lot of yourself for them (sometimes a little too much!). As the receiver, one should not find themselves accepting everything; they are not actually in need of help, but the gesture is greatly appreciated. Fighting over who pays? It is the act of generosity that matters. You want your friends and family to do well, so it is almost your obligation to oversee that, as much as possible.

The days of ‘continually going to meals and eating’ continued when we traveled back to Beijing. We have friends there, so¬†we had lunch with my brother’s host family (the one who is studying in Beijing), and lots of meals with friends.¬†Every time, my brothers and I would practice our ‘Chinese manners’ and, of course, dramatize everything.

Being Chinese has its perks – for instance, the monetary gifts! Of course money isn’t everything, but it is definitely nice to remember that your family has always got your back. When China decided it would roll with us (that is, make conditions about everything but make it seem like the New World), we decided we’d roll with China. (It’s a pretty sweet ride.)

Next time: California and Home. We left China eventually, leaving Jon behind and going to California to see my mom’s brother, family, and parents. Dumplings ensue.

Winter China 2: The tropical land of China

I left off last time at leaving the cold, freezing-my-butt-off mountains of Yunnan. We left there for… wait for it… XiShuangBanNa – A.K.A. the tropical land of China! A little about the area: it borders the country of Laos, it’s a big tourist attraction, and has palm trees and sun year-round. Pretty much the opposite of where we just came from!

Plenty of palm trees, and houses that are built on top of poles to allow animals to live underneath.

Plenty of palm trees, and houses that are built on top of poles to allow animals to live underneath.

We moved into our hotel on the 22nd. We were definitely happy to be there! On the 24th (Christmas Eve and my dad’s birthday), we did whatever my dad decided he wanted to do – which was rent bikes, bike to a hot springs, and eat at his new favorite caf√©, MeiMei Caf√©. The rest of us were happy to oblige, as MeiMei’s suited everyone’s taste. Western food is not hard to find in China these days, but good coffee and Belgian chocolate is, and MeiMei had all of the above. Of course we had to have a birthday celebration, which we kept rather low-key: a candle on the cheesecake he ordered delivered¬†to the tune of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song. After we got home, we gave a couple presents. Of course, the presents didn’t end there as tomorrow would be Christmas.

As you can probably guess, Christmas spent abroad in a tropical place is a bit unorthodox, to say the least. (No chance for a white Christmas, for starters!) Don’t worry, the hotel had a massive Christmas tree with a ton of depictions of Santa Claus. To make sure that we had enough Christmas spirit, I brought a couple ‘spirited’ elements: a Santa hat, light-up necklace, and Santa bobble-headband, all from the Dollar Store. We put the presents on the bed, and opened them as we usually do:¬†we go around in a circle, each person choosing then opening one present at a time. It was… different. But still good, because¬†the entire family had been reunited after six months apart. We spent most of Christmas day at a botanical forest, seeing plants that are hard to believe even exist, and then at an highly-sexualized minority group performance that we decided we’d leave. So¬†although¬†location definitely helps with the nostalgia and traditional homey feelings, location doesn’t determine who the family is. You can’t chose your family, but you can chose to love and have fun with them. I’m just glad I have a family that’s easy (most of the time!) to have fun with. ūüôā

After XiShuangBanNa, we knew we were headed to my mom’s hometown in the Jiangsu province (she is Chinese and originally from that area), but we didn’t know we were just rolling in without a plan. Definitely an experience and adventure.¬†More to come!

“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” -George Bernard Shaw