Thinking back to the moments that made up 2016 makes my heart swell because they were filled with adventure, laughter, travel, family, new experiences, delicious food, friends, and all of the things that make my soul happy. Kim and I were lucky enough to start our third year living abroad as I continued to teach High School Art as well as starting as a Technology Integration Specialist at the elementary level of an International School in Yangon, Myanmar. We spent the first half of the year in our apartment we shared with two dear friends, then I spent the beginning of the summer becoming a certified yoga teacher before sharing the rest of the summer with my family in Maine, and returning to Southeast Asia in the fall, traveling in bits throughout the whole year. I still enjoy going back to visit my 14 Adventures of 2014 blog post as a little peek into that year of exciting changes so I thought I would return to the idea and create another reminiscent post for 2016. So here it is, 16 Epic Parts of 2016:
Kim and I woke up on the first morning of 2016 to the sound of the ocean lapping against our boat as we cruised through Halong Bay, one of Vietnam’s most beautiful landforms. The limestone crests jutted out of the water to every side of us as we peacefully sailed along into the new year. After that we found our way up into the mountains of Sapa and spent days motor biking the chilly twisting mountain roads. What a way to start out the year!
15. Biggest Buddha in the World
When we do my dream road trip across the US I am going to have to plan lots of extra time because I am a sucker for “biggest in the world” things. Let’s be honest here, who isn’t? Okay, maybe it’s just me. Nonetheless, when we visited the quiet Myanmar town of Hpa-An I heard that there was the biggest reclining Buddha in the World just a short ways away and I was sold. Of course we HAD to go see it. I also thought it was a great idea to take the scenic route which ended up being a very long, very dusty, dirt road. Our motorbike was not impressed (nor was the driver – Kim). Just as the sun was setting we managed to pull into Win Sein Taw Ya and it was quite the spectacular site. This paired with a weekend of cave exploring and motorbiking with friends made for a memorable time.
14. Our First No Plans Trip
10 days and no plans, that’s how our trip to the Philippines started in April. With nothing booked besides our plane tickets, we backpacked our way through the Philippine island of Luzon where we hiked to see hanging coffins, ate empanadas on the cobblestone streets of Vigan, and enjoyed to waves of Pagudpud. Although it was not the “perfect” vacation that I could have neatly planned, it was worth it in so many surprise ways.
13. Solo Art Exhibition
In May I completed one of my top artistic goals, to host my first Solo Art Exhibition. The body of work was a series of digitally manipulated (glitched) photographs of Myanmar culture. Since this country is still not completely free (earlier this year a man was imprisoned for using an image of Buddha in a bar advertisement), I held the show in a private location as invitation only. The completion of the show was also intended to model the process of exhibiting your work as a working artist for my advanced art students who also had to host similar shows on their own.
12. Yoga Training in the Indian Mountains
I’m not sure how to summarize the life-affirming experience of yoga training in one simple paragraph so please head over a read the long version of my month in India learning the traditional and modern approaches to yoga. After a month of practicing, learning anatomy, questioning everything through philosophy, and more practicing, I accepted my yoga teacher certification as a full fledge yoga instructor.
11. Megan’s Nashville Bash
Directly after yoga training I flew from India straight to Nashville, Tennessee where the beautiful Meg was parting away with her fantastic gang of girls. It was a weekend of cowboy boots, honkey tonks, and tons of drinking. Unfortunately for me it also included catching some sickness on the plane and being in bed for a good chunk of the time. Nonetheless, it was a time to remember, cowboy hats and all.
10. 2 Weeks (2 Short) in Maine
Such a short amount of time but in just two weeks I squeezed in SO much love, laughter, and memories. For what felt like a blink of an eye, I was surrounded by all of my favorite people and just thinking about the long summer days we spent camping, BBQing, lounging around, and just hanging out fills me with so much happiness.
09. Meatless Me
Okay, this one is not one moment in time but it is HUGE and deserves a slot; half way through the 2016 year I decided to no longer eat meat. It is something that I have considered for some time for many reasons, health wise, ethics wise, and environmental wise. It has had its challenges but for the most part has been rather easy thanks to the goddess that is my wife who has taken on my vegetarianism as inspiration and is constantly concocting delicious new meatless creations. Mainly I feel like I am living less in duality now, that my beliefs match my actions, and that makes my soul happy.
08. Maine Island Clam Bake
Cabbage Island is a small piece of land just of the coast of Boothbay harbor, Maine. It is also the location of one of the oldest Clam Bake traditions in the North East. Kim and I spent an afternoon with her family, Robin and Steve, sailing about the coast before enjoying lobster, clams, corn, potatoes, onions, and other goodies that were cooked under a blanket of seaweed. Nothing tastes more like Maine than that!
07. Road Trip Around Israel
What is better than a summer road trip? How about a summer road trip with three of your favorite people!? How about a summer road trip with three of your favorite people discovering a new country!? On our way back to Southeast Asia in July, Kim and I stopped in Israel to visit my sister Amanda and her husband Josh (who were there while Amanda completed a summer program and internship for her Law degree). Our short visit brought an overflow of fun as we road tripped around Israel. We explored the city of Tel Aviv, walked through the streets of Jeruselum, stopped to ride a camel in the Judaian desert, awed at the mini grand canyon in Ramon Crater, and took a mud bath in the dead sea. I don’t think there were another four days this year that were filled with more fun, exploration, exciting new things, adventure, or love.
06. Meandering Through a Japanese Garden
I did not expect to find peacefulness when I went to the giant city of Hong Kong for a work conference in September, actually I didn’t expect to like it all that much. Fortunately, both of those were way off. Hong Kong is a fascinating city with so much uniqueness, all of which I enjoyed very much. My favorite part of it though was not the huge shopping centers or the bustling streets, but rather a quiet little park called Nan Lian Garden which echoed that of a Japanese Tea Garden. I had learned about these in my college Asian Art History class. The pathways are twisted and uneven to purposefully induce slow walking. Landscapes are created to produce the most picture perfect views with every branch and stone as an intentional brushstroke in the most stunning painting. Water is trickling and soft music is drifting through the leaves adding to the meditative atmosphere. Asian gardens are not manicured pieces of land, they are living art work experiences.
05. Snorkeling in the Andaman Sea
With such an exciting year, Kim and I decided to take our “fall” break and chill out on some of the best beaches in the world. Lucky for us these are found right next door in southern Thailand. We spent the week snorkeling off Koh Phi Phi, enjoying the sunset on Railay beach in Krabi, soaking in the natural hot springs, and adventuring around. The most memorable time for me being the spectacularly turquoise blue waters that were so stunning in color it was almost unbelievable.
04. Half Marathon Trail Run
Sometimes I get some crazy idea in my head and it just sticks. I’m trying to go along with my life and it is sitting over in the corner of my brain tapping its fingers, waiting for me to pay attention to it. This was one of those ideas. On a warm November morning I spent 3+ hours running 13.1 miles through the mud on trails in the Myanmar mountains to complete my first ever half marathon. My legs were shaking but my smile could not have been bigger when I crossed the finish line to a greeting of friends and congratulations. It took a lot of hard work, early mornings, and focused training, but I did it!
03. Yee Ping Mass Lantern Release
When I first decided to move to Asia I began a list of interesting places to visit and three years later I have forgotten everything on that list except for this one. It took a few years to manage the timing and to get ahold of tickets but it was worth the long wait. On the November full moon I joined hundreds of others on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, Thialand, in a mass release of sky lanterns and it was the most breathtaking sight I believe I have ever seen.
02. A Month on the Indonesian Islands
I didn’t have a lot of expectations, or plans, when we got on the plane for our winter vacation in Indonesia but by the time we left three weeks later I was head over heals about the string of islands. Starting off on Java we adventured to the highest peaks at the top of Mt. Bromo, an active volcano, then down into the blue lake Ijen Crater to view the blue fire alight from the sulfur gases. By the time we got to the island of Bali we more than enjoyed a much needed rest at our friends Ashley and Matt’s villa. The day after Christmas we grabbed a motorbike and hit the road to spend two weeks cruising along the coast, up the mountains, through the rice terraces, and by the temple towns of Bali. We spent New Years at a black sand beach, saw dolphins, got drenched in a mountain down pour, enjoyed mornings of yoga and monkey walks, and so much more. I can see now why Bali stays in the heart of so many, it has a way of rooting down into your soul.
2016 was a year of epic proportions filled with more adventures than most people get to experience in a lifetime and I am so very grateful to call this my life. Yet, not one of these moments would have been half as amazing if I didn’t have my beautiful wife by my side. Her constant encouragement and support through all of my dreams, big and small, makes my life so much fuller. Whatever plan or crazy idea I conjure up is always met with a Yes! My travel companion, my fearless motorbike driver, and my goddess of a chef; the one who always makes me laugh (even when it’s the last thing I want to do) I am so thankful to have celebrated two full years of marriage this year. I read somewhere once that if you love someone, travel with them, for then you will know their true self; happily I can say that I have found someone who loves my truest self right back and that is the most epic part of them all.
November was an exciting month when the country of Myanmar had the world’s eyes watching as it held its first fair election. The energy was electric leading up to the big day when the town was eerily quiet. As everyone anxiously awaited the news, we held our annual International Day at school and the connecting International Party at the teacher housing. At the end of the month we headed to the beach where we celebrated Thanksgiving and the Myanmar full moon holiday.
Not my photo! Credited to BBC
I’ll start by admitting that I don’t know a great deal about Myanmar politics, so if you want a history and in depth explanation of the election start here. There. Now, let me tell you about what I do know.
First for a little background: Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, was colonized by the British in the 19th century. They left behind a great deal of influences including colonial buildings, Brittish words that are still used today, bidets, and tea – lots of tea. The next great leader of Burma was General Aung Sun Suki, he helped Burma gain its independence and was held in high regard until his assassination and a coup d’etat in 1962. In the next five decades the military dictatorship greatly hurt the country. The whole country was mostly closed off from foreigners during this period. Thankfully in 2011 this leadership formally ended, however the government still was led by former military officers. Which leads us to now.
This year was the first democratic election in Myanmar’s history. HUGE, right? There was an extraordinary amount of worry and anticipation regarding the election. Everyone was worried about what might happen, that there would be unrests and the government would strike back painfully. No one believed that the election would actually be clean, but the world’s eyes were all looking at Myanmar and some countries even flew in specific organizations to see that the election ran successfully.
For the past few months there have been more and more political rallies. The main party that held these were the National League for Democracy. This is led by Aung Sun Suki’s daughter (of the same name) who has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for her stance against the government. The rallies were spirited events with supporters wearing the red symbol for the league in support. You could also see the golden bird holding arrows sprinkled throughout the city on cars, pins, banners at houses, and photos in shops.
In the weeks leading up to the election everyone blamed everything possible on the election. The internet is running especially slow today? It’s because the government is controlling the level of internet usage to not let election news out to the world. There is more traffic than usual? Lots of foreigners are flocking in for the election. You couldn’t do your homework? Only because my camera was taken by my mom to get coverage for the NLD rally for the upcoming election. It became a game with me and my friends to try and think of a connection between any occurring problem and the election.
In all serious though, even my school was setting up for a worse case scenario. ISM has a faculty evacuation procedure set that involves flying all of the foreign staff to Bangkok and camping out there until the said even dies down. They even have a plan in case we could never get back that involves packing or securing our belongings and sending our remaining pay home.
Although I would have loved to be out photographing the election events on Nov. 8th we were advised to stay inside and to certainly not go anywhere near the voting locations for fear of a riot. So I will include photos by other photographers here. On the day of Kim and I went to a friend’s gathering to share the excitement with our friends. When we taxied there the roads were completely deserted and every single shop was closed. I have never seen our street so quiet.
As you can imagine, there was a great deal of talk about the elections, especially on social media where my Burmese friends proudly showed off their inked finger - after someone voted they dyed their finger with ink so they couldn’t vote again. There was over an 80% population turn out for voting. Everyone was very excited! After the elections there was also quite a lot of talk about whether or not the elections were actually clean. There were reports of rigging the votes which may or may not have been true.
There was still some very apparent corruption like the fact that the vote of every soldier automatically goes to the military party and how there were people “registered” to vote that have been dead for years (seemingly so the military could just take those votes too). But after everything it was announced just two days later that the NATIONAL LEAGUE FOR DEMOCRACY WON THE ELECTION!!!
Not my photo! Credited to The National
This means that the country finally gets to be run by Aung Sung Suu Ki, the lady of the people. Unfortunately in the Burmese Constitution it says that you cannot be president if you have a foreign spouse or children, which Suu Ki does. The word is that she is going to choose a person that will act as president but will actually just respond to her wishes. I have noticed mixed feelings about this when talking with my Burmese friends. On one side, Yay! Suu Ki is finally in charge, on the other side it seems unethical to have a president that is not actually in charge but just reporting to someone else.
Either way, the officers will be elected and put in office at the beginning of next year. Unfortunately none of the officers will have had any sort of political experience because none of them are a part of the military. It should be an interesting next five years. Also, 25% of the seats automatically go to the military and – get this – in order to change any part of the constitution you need over 75% of the votes.
Nonetheless, the energy in the country is one of hope, excitement, and relief. Myanmar finally has “our lady” leading the country and is looking forward to see what great things will happen. It was a special time to be here and experience this history changing election. Maybe now when I tell people that I am in Myanmar they might know where I mean.
Not my photo! Credited to BBC
Every year ISM chooses one day to celebrate the diversity in our school and our world. International Day involves the entire k-12 school coming together to showcase different cultures around the world. Students dress up in traditional dress representing their heritage or join in to learn about a different culture. A parade was held to show the variety of clothing and countries represented. After, all students and families got to enjoy the booths that each represented country set up. These booths were filled with games, information, and traditional objects available to teach others about the what makes that country different and unique. The PTA provided food of various cuisines and the band played music highlighting different styles. It was a fun and colorful day!
At the end of the month we had a long weekend where we were able to escape to Ngwe Sung, a small beach town about 6 hours West of Yangon. I got so much more than I expected from this trip.
We left late one Wednesday night and endured a twisting and turning and bumpy 6 hour bus ride to arrive at this little bungalow hotel. But every second was worth it when we saw the beauty of the beach. Almost deserted, it stretched lazily for as long as you could see. All along the shore were small restaurants that served up only the freshest seafood for insanely cheap prices. We spent the entire four days lounging in hammocks, playing with our favorite little kids in the sand, swimming in the perfect temperature of the ocean, and enjoying the crashing waves at night with some good friends. Thanksgiving night we enjoyed a seafood feast at a local restaurant with an accompanying fire show.
I’ve never been much of a beach person but the simplicity and calmness that blankets Ngwe Sung is just perfection. Kim and I even got a motorbike one day and spent some time cruising along the quiet ocean roads. With so many places to visit in the world, there are few that I plan to return to but I know that I will see Ngwe Sung again soon.
While Kim was up visiting her parents on Saturday I went off to have a breakfast date with Katie over in Oxford.
I then went over to a house on Range Pond to photograph a small and intimate wedding. It was a quiet afternoon with a potluck BBQ, and children running all around. For Amy & Chris I don't think they would have wanted anything different.
On Saturday night we headed over to Meg's house where we invented a game called Adopt-A-Kitchen. It is a "TV Show" where Chef Kimmie goes into friend's houses and makes them dinner. She must make one beverage, one appetizer, and one entree by the end of the night. Part of the challenge is the Host's Choice items which must be included somewhere in the meal. Watch our version below for the fun the was had.
A mini photo shoot was also had:
Another beach day was held at Reid in the honor of Amanda's Birthday, but do we really need a reason to enjoy the long-awaited sunshine? I think not. We not only joined our family for a beach BBQ but also a group of friends for general beach shenanigans. It was a great day that was only made better by stopping at Lotus for Chinese food on the way home.
Also, this is what happens when I leave my phone unattended. For payback I am posting all of these selfies from Sam & Drew as gifs for the world to see. Hehehe
Monday I finally heard word back from ISM that they will be sending along our letters for our visas soon. I have been very anxious about getting the correct documentation from them so we can send out for our visas in DC so we can get them back in time before we go. With only 4 weeks until takeoff my stress has been running high mainly because I have not been able to get a hold of the ISM HR person that should have sent me the information weeks ago.
We were planning on getting our visas before we go so we can fly directly into Yangon, making it easier on the pets. Even though we found out last week that we could not bring Ellie, we were still planning on bringing my Maine Coon Cat, Macy.
When I got the note from ISM stating that they are working on my documentation we decided that it was time to purchase our plane tickets. Of course the flight itinerary that I had picked out and gotten approved was no longer available but I was able to find one very similar to it. After a call to my bank for them to up my daily spending limit on my debit card, I finally had our plane tickets purchased. I printed out the itinerary, receipts, and forms for Macy to have filled out at the vet later that day. This was exactly 31 days before we were set to leave and in order for Macy to be ready she needed certain shots done at least 30 days before flying so we were defiantly cutting it close.
I then proceeded to call the airlines to inform them that we would be having a cat fly with us in the plane. The first airline was absolutely no problem (the one that would take us from Portland to JFK). The second one is where it became difficult. I got another very fast-speaking representative that easily took all of my information on our flights and Macy. He then proceeded to tell me the maximum detentions of the pet carriers that were allowed on the plane, I quickly scribbled these down and finished our conversation about baggage fees. After I got off the phone I looked at the dimensions of the carrier that he gave to me, they were in metric so I converted them into inches: Hight 8" - Width and Length 12" Hu? That seemed really small to me so I dug out my ruler and tried to invasion a carrier that small. I then tried to look online for one that small but it was hard to tell how Macy would actually look in them. Off I went to PetCo hoping that they would have small carriers for me to see in person, but they don't even carry them that small. And here it was, we had come all this way with our months of research only to find out that they only let mini cats fly in the planes. Seriously, who has a cat that is that tiny and not a kitten?
With Macy's vet appointment drawing closer I had to make the decision and with everything in mind I realize that it simply was just not meant to be. This thought of course makes me extremely sad but there is no way I am stuffing Macy into a shoebox sized space for 25+ hours. I cancelled the vet appointment and began my search for a foster home for Macy.
Now that we don't have a reason to fly directly into Yangon we will be traveling to Bangkok to meet up with the rest of my school and get our visas there the day before. I emailed ISM to inform them of the change and cancelled our plane tickets. I feel very defeated after fighting so hard and doing so much research for the past 5 months and to have it all come down to this. But alas, so it is.
The rest of the week was spent packing and doing various moving related tasks, such as getting my wedding dress dry cleaned and packed away, and ordering our contacts for the next year. It seems that the more I pack the more messy the house gets. There is stuff everywhere but I am very happy to be purging items that have long been used. It feels so nice to have less things around, I wish I had been able to go through my things long ago. I know I will miss my things when we are away but it will also be nice not to be surrounded by stuff at ever turn. So far almost all of my boxes are either books or artwork. The many pieces of artwork have proved very difficult to pack up. I have a good number of oddly shaped ceramic objects (like my medusa below) that involved a great deal of bubble wrap and packing peanuts to ensure their safety. I hope that everything gets tucked away carefully.
On Thursday Amanda came over and we made up her wedding invitations, we could not be happier with how they came out!
Friday Amanda, Josh, Toothless, and I headed to Marche because it was Kim's very last day of work as the manager and head chef.
My last day of work was sad yet happy all at the same time. A bunch of my regular customers came in to say goodbye and get one last meal made by me. They all wished me good luck, said they were going to miss me, and told me not to drink the water. I never saw myself working in an open kitchen (where the customers can see and talk with the chef and cooks) but now I know that when I have my own restaurant it is going to be an open kitchen for sure. I loved that the customers got to see how their food was made and all of the work going into it (and could tell that it wasn't just popped in a microwave). I didn't realize how much I loved interacting one on one with the customers, getting to know their names, their order preferences, and all about their lives. Joking and chatting with them as they came in made my job so meaningful and pleasurable. At the end of the day when I went over to turn my keys in I realized how much I learned while being at Marche and how it has made me grow as a chef and become a better person overall. I got to work under a great chef named Justin who taught me a number of skills that I will be taking with me wherever I end up. He was also the first chef to buy me my own professional chefs knife which means more to me than words can say. I will certainly miss Marche but I know that there are grand adventures to be had.
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world