I’ve been an official resident of Istanbul, Turkey for two weeks now and I have a full mind, sore legs, and a deep sense of awe.
The other morning I went for a run in our neighborhood. I stepped over fat, sleeping street dogs, passed waiters carrying tea out to businessmen chatting at the tables which were spilling out into the sidewalks, forced myself to continue pass the luscious smelling bread wafting from the bakery, and continued all the way down until I reached a dead end in front of the Bosphorus. I paused here for one of those movie perfect moments as the sun just sneaked over the horizon lighting up the bridge that connects the continents of Europe and Asia (yet still remain Istanbul on both sides). To my side stood the most stunningly detailed mosque that oozes grandness and history. On the river edge a fisherman pulled up his line with a small wiggling fish on it and as he drew it to the shore one of Istanbul’s greatly beloved cats snuck up and tried to claim it for her own. It was one of those slices of time where the energy of a place reaches your soul and imprints itself. It was one of the many moments of falling in love with Istanbul that I’ve experienced since arriving.
Never before have I lived in a place with such deep, rich history - as I walk the streets I see bits and pieces from empires that thrived ages ago, I see traditions dating back centuries, and places that are still used as they were used literally thousands of years before. It brings with it a feeling of oneness with the greater line of human history. The beautiful street cafe life of Europe is thriving here but intertwined with it is the exotic middle eastern flare. Just walking the streets have brought enough entertainment to fill our time as we ooh and ah at the shops and restaurants all around.
To give you a bit of a background on how we ended up here; Kim and I knew early on that our third year in Myanmar would be our last, it is a beautiful and interesting country but the trials and challenges weigh on you and we wanted to leave while still in good spirits. As we set out in search of a new international placement we knew we wanted a huge culture shift so we set our eyes on Eastern Europe or South America. After many months of searching, applying, and interviewing, I was offered the position as middle school art teacher at MEF International School in Istanbul, Turkey. We were elated and accepted quickly.
Half of the summer we spent backpacking Ecuador with my younger brother Drew, it was an adventure filled trip that showed us a lot of what South America had to offer. We sailed down a river in the Amazon on a carved out canoe, we climbed a suspended bridge and ziplined across canyons, we ate so many empanadas, we staggered the ecuador, we wandered through ancient Inca ruins, parasailed over the ocean, spent hours picking out the perfect “panama hat,” and nearly died climbing down to a stunning emerald lake in the middle of a mountain range (at least it felt like I was going to die because the altitude was over 12,000 feet).
Another unforgettable adventure for certain but nothing can compare to the feeling of coming back home. We spent most of our six weeks in Maine visiting as many people as possible. One of my favorite parts was our family and friends camping weekend up in Avon where we all had a blast hanging around the campfire and swimming up in the mountains. It seems to keep getting harder and harder to leave all you fine folks in Maine. It’s funny but it really is the little things that I love and miss the most like shopping dates with Amanda, photographing with Andrea, chasing Zane around, life talks early in the morning with Dad, ice cream dates with Nikki, Mac, and Danny, chilling with Drew, seeing Sam’s first apartment, making tasty treats with Autumn, and simply spending time with all the rest of you. Know that you are dearly missed and thought of often.
Ready or not, Kim and I dragged all of our suitcases onto the plane and were Istanbul bound before I knew it. We had a bit of a hairy transit with some visa confusion, not being able to find our bags, and nearly getting our contact lenses confiscated in London, but all in all we arrived in safely with all of our belongings to find a warm greeting from my principal who picked us up from the airport. Here are a few pictures of my new school.
The first two weeks here in Istanbul has been jam packed. My new school had a great orientation set up that filled all the newcomers in on working at the school and living in Turkey. We had interactive basic Turkish language sessions, Turkish history lessons, plenty of insurance/bank/info paperwork to fill out, trips to the tax office, the police station, the phone company, and so much more. I feel extremely well cared for here and it is a huge relief to know that there are so many people that want us to feel happy here and have gone out of their way to help us get settled.
I’ve spent the first two weeks in orientation at school by day and out exploring the town at night. We live in school provided apartments which are directly next to school. Once we get a little more settled in our apartment I’ll share some pictures of it but for now here is our building and the apartment pool with the school directly in the background:
We live in a quieter area of town but just a short walk away is a fun section with lots of stores like cheese stores, household goods stores, grocers spilling out onto the sidewalks, spice stores, electronics stores, etc etc etc. We also have so many food places including a variety of restaurants, many kebab stalls, a very famous bean restaurant, pizza places, bakeries, dessert places, and even a section of very well known baked potato stalls. Near the edge of the Bosphorus is a market area filled with stalls to buy art and jewelry and souvenirs. This whole section unveils a range of bars and clubs on weekend nights. It took me a few days to not feel completely overwhelmed by this area because there is so much going on but now I am excited to try all the different places and explore even further out.
It is crazy hilly here! I had read before arriving to bring good walking shoes and I am so glad I caved and bought a new pair of sneakers before coming because I have never seen such a hilly place in my life! We live in the middle of this giant hill and it took a few mornings to actually make it to the top. Kim has been walking miles everyday as she has been going out and exploring the town. I’m afraid that one day I’ll miss step and find myself tumbling down one of these massive hills but at least I’ll be able to get the hang of it before the snow starts to fly. The weather has been gorgeous. We didn’t expect it to be quite this warm but it has been in the high 80s or low 90s everyday. I think fall will be arriving soon though because I can already feel a shift in the nightly temperatures to being a tad cooler.
Kim is head over heals in love with the food here. She has been filling her days with exploring the depths of the supermarkets near and far as well as tracking down open air markets (like farmers markets) around the city every day of the week. She has been cooking up a storm with all of the delicious ingredients she has been finding. We’ve been eating cheese nonstop (to make up for the lack of cheese we experienced in Asia) and so many fresh veggies. At school the lunches are provided free of charge (with daily vegetarian options) so I’ve been enjoying some different dishes like lentil soups, interesting salads, and a whole slew of cooked veggies. Then there is the fantastic dining out experiences we’ve enjoyed. Kim has been eating kebabs daily while out on her adventures, while we have started to eat our way through the many restaurants in the area.
The prime event was most certainly the traditional Turkish breakfast we had today. We had heard of this spectacular part of Turkish culture before even arriving and we were so so looking forward to it and let me tell you, it did not disappoint! The breakfast was comprised of a variety of smaller dishes including honey butter, green olives, black olives, fresh marmalade, cheese with cherry jam, eggs cooked with tomato and cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese, fresh butter, a cheese plate with a variety of cheeses, a tomato paste dip with olive oil, fried eggs with sausage, and an endless supply of multiple kinds of breads. All of this was more than Kim and I could eat and was only $25!
Another top event so far was the cruise that MEF arranged for all of the teachers to go on. As we sailed along the Bosphorus and took in sights of Istanbul from the water, we socialized, ate dinner, and danced the night away. It was a lot of fun to have everyone together enjoying themselves.
Istanbul is well known for adoring it's street cats. You see them all around town plus plenty of places that have left food out for them (and the street dogs), here are some food dishes outside our local grocery store, some cats outside our apartment and laying outside a store. Also, one of the golden retriever street dogs that I had to convince Kim to not bring home. The last is a bottle return machine that releases cat/dog food at the bottom.
This year I will be teaching 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th grade art as well as an 11th and 12th grade combined class. I spent some long days (and nights) working on curriculum planning for the year but am now rewarded with a nice long holiday before school starts. We have a full 10 days off in which Kim and I are looking forward to exploring Istanbul further, eating lots of amazing food, and doing some lounging by the pool. So far Istanbul has lived up to all of our expectations and I can't wait to see what else this spectacular city has to hold.
We have been back in Myanmar for over a month now and we are settling in quite well to our jobs and home life. It seems crazy to be back, yet comfortably familiar at the same time. The amazing summer we had back home left us feeling reenergized and refilled with the calm patience necessary for life in Yangon. This crazy city with its insane traffic, constant market callers, chanting monks, dinging bells from passing trishaws, and always bustling streets, has welcomed us back with its usual chaos and smiles.
Our biggest news is that we moved to a new apartment. Not only are we no longer living in school provided housing, but we are living in a more local area only a short walk from school. We found our apartment before we left in May with two friends of ours. Shelly and Luis both teach at ISM with me and have been awesome roommates! This apartment is very inexpensive which means we will be saving even more money this year with our housing allowance that the school provides. It has great qualities to it like a huge living area, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large open kitchen, and lots of windows. We were able to buy all of the furniture from the previous tenants so we were all set to move in as soon as we returned from summer break.
The move itself was interesting. Back home we would call up a friend or family member with a truck to help us move, but in Yangon no one we know has vehicles. We could have gotten a few cabs together because we did not have that many belongings but we do have a large house plant and two chairs. So we arranged for a truck through a kind friend of ours who has local connections. It was a confusing time meeting the truck and a scary ride to our new place with Kim and our plant hanging out the back, but we made it and only had to pay $15 (plus a $5 tip for each of the guys who helped us lug everything up stairs).
We have had a couple of challenges like bugs and electricity. But instead of waiting hours or days or even weeks for a worker from our old condo to fix our issues we are able to fix them quickly ourselves with the help of our attentive landlord and our kind neighbors. There was this one time when the power went out, not unusual for Yangon, but annoying nonetheless. Strangely it was still out a few hours later even though the other apartments in our building had the power returned. So Kim tried to talk to one of our neighbors, the man didn't speak any English so he went and got another man who got another one who got another one. This final man, Aung, not only spoke some English but he "make power work" (works as an electrician). He quickly got his toolbox and came up to the apartment, took an hour working on our regulator, and finally fixed the problem. When Kim tried to give him a payment he simply replied "We neighbors, we help."
Then there was the first morning of school when I woke up early to have a quiet start to my morning, I poured myself a cup of tea and opened a window to let some air in, and sat down with my journal when a BAT flew in the room! It was an entertaining 30 minutes of running around with a laundry basket trying to catch it as it swooped around my head. In the end everyone in the house was up watching me trying to usher it out and it just flew right back out the same window it came in.
A few weeks ago we hosted a big housewarming party in the new space. It was great fun to have our friends over to fill the apartment with great vibes.
Here are a few pictures from around the neighborhood
Living close to school has so many benefits! Instead of dreading the hour plus bus ride home in the afternoons I have been staying late to enjoy teacher activities that other teachers offer like ultimate Frisbee, yoga, and work out classes. I feel very lucky to be able to take advantage of all of these great things!
Plus, Kim is so close on her days off that she has been joining me for breakfast or lunch occasionally. We usually eat at our favorite shan noodle and tofu noway stand in the mornings and enjoy a lunch stall run by a Pakistani man in the afternoons.
On the school front I have been busy as a bee developing a curriculum that better fits my teaching philosophy and designing two new courses. Last year I taught Art 1 (foundations, intro art class for mostly freshman) and AP 2D Design (advanced placement digital art course for upper levels). Continuing with those classes I have also added a Digital Art course (photography, digital drawing, animation, and other graphic media) and an Advanced Digital Art course (independent study for a small group of students interested in continuing their work in digital art). Having four different classes to prepare for has been challenging but so rewarding! Here are a few photos from different classes that I have taken this month.
I am very proud of the classroom website that I have redesigned. I have used various methods in the past but feel satisfied that this website is one that can grow with me as an educator. I have set it up with resources for both students and fellow teachers. I’m excited to continue growing the content of this site and making it usable for a wider audience. The site is called In The Art Room, take a look at it here.
Kim has been enjoying being back at work too. For those who don’t know, Kim is the executive chef/kitchen manager for a Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant called Fahrenheit. Taking the tex-mex basics and infusing Asian elements, Kim has created a truly original taste that people love! The chic atmosphere and the craft cocktails make for a perfect surrounding to enjoy a great night out. Since Kim has returned, she has been hard at work making new delicious concoctions for the new menu. Favorites like the pad thai chimichanga and the garlic curry chicken tacos will now be joined by items like pumpkin tofu empanadas and (my favorite) frozen margarita pie. Kim is really going to the extremes at stretching her culinary skills to bring together two of the top cuisines. Just wait until you try her hand made chocolate ice cream with chili hot fudge sauce. I joined a few friends down for a private tasting a couple weeks ago that was out of this world!
One of my favorite things I have started this month is baking bread. The other week Kim was planning our weekly dinner menu and I voted for homemade pizza. She agreed on the deliciousness of that idea but said that she wouldn't have time to make the dough. I piped up saying that I could make it. Seeing as Kim is a professional chef and I well ... burn things, she reasonably laughed. A lot. I tried to defend my capabilities by evidence of the last time I made dough but it had been so long that she didn't believe me. This made me so sad to realize that something I love, baking doughs and breads, hadn't been experienced in so long that it was forgotten. That week I made the pizza dough and the smell of the yeast mixed with the kneading of the dough and the anticipation of the rise brought it all back. Since then I have spent the past two Saturday mornings devoted to making bread. Such a calm, meditative, and satisfying time creating something from nothing. Plus, there is nothing like the taste of fresh made bread straight from the oven.
Another perk to living in SE Asia is insanely inexpensive spa treatments. I joined my friend Ashley on a weekend trip to her favorite spa to get pampered. I got an hour long full body massage that was on the rougher side (I had requested oil massage since they are not so rough but it got lost in communication) (cost $10). Then I enjoyed a “Shampoo” which I found out did not only consist of shampooing my hair but also a 30 minute head and shoulder massage that finished with a blow dry and style (cost $1.50). Afterwards we both got our nails done by a spectacular nail artist who did immaculate designs by hand (cost $6.50). It was such a fun afternoon! A treat that I never would have been able to afford in the States, my total cost was $18.00!
A week after my spa day with Ashley, I was home with the roommates on a Saturday afternoon when the power went out for the whole neighborhood. I suggested that we take the opportunity to check out one of the many hair salons on our street. So we went across the road and found a place offering “Shampoos” for $3.00. After listening to them pump water from a hand pump in the back of the salon Kim, Shelly and I all enjoyed a (slightly rough) massage and (slightly chilly) shampoo. Luckily they had a generator that they turned on to blow dry our hair. Shelly also got a trim for $1.00.
We bought a rice cooker (one of the only things that didn't come with our apartment, a necessity in Asia)
They are now selling frogs at the market.
I ate my last bowl of honey nut cherieos from the stash I brought back from the States.
It rained. A lot.
We were reunited with our favorite expat family.
Overall it has been a fantastic month reconnecting with friends and students. We have had dinner dates, night wanderings, rainy afternoons inside, school events, parties, and so much more! I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue working and living in this still confusing, still frustrating, still enigmatic place. I am happy to have a great place to live with great people making my day to day life so much easier. Here are a few random photos from different times throughout the month.
There is only one word that can truly summarize this year: adventure. There has been more change in the last 365 days than any other point in my life and with change comes spectacular opportunities. The year was filled with family, culture, food, photography, travel, celebrations, and huge life changes. It has been a beautiful journey and I have loved sharing it with you. Here are 14 AMAZING things that made 2014 an epic year.
14. Rode an Elephant & Got Chased by Monkeys
Not too far from my new home is a park where you can visit a variety of different animals. Halwga National Park is most well known for it monkey filled area where you can drive through and meet creatures along the way. We spent an afternoon feeding monkeys out the car window and getting to know the elephants that we were lucky enough to get a chance to ride on.
13. Help Portrait & FotoMarathon
I participated in two photography events this year. The first was FotoMarathon Yangon where we were challenged to go out in groups and take photos around town based on specific themes that were sent to us every two hours. You can read all about it here. Shortly after that I helped lead a group of students in creating a Help-Portrait event. This is a worldwide initiative that I also participated in when I was in Maine. The event involves taking photos for families who would not normally be able to afford professional photography, we invited the local staff and trishaw drivers from the school, dressed them up, did their makeup and hair, took their portraits, and printed out photographs for them to go home with that day. It was a beautiful experience that was not about taking photographs but about giving them. (Post coming soon)
12. Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival
As many of the best things do, my trip up to Tanuggi for the famous Fire Balloon Festival came very spontaneously as a weekend getaway with my friend Ashley. Thousands of people flock to the otherwise quiet town of Tanuggi each year to witness and participate in the traditional act of launching fire balloons. It was an experience like no other. Read about the whole festival here (videos included).
11. Watched Amanda & Josh Exchange Vows
The hardest day of homesickness I have had was the day of Amanda and Josh's wedding. Luckily we have amazing technology now that allowed me to watch the entire event. I stayed up all night since there is a 12 hour time difference and was able to skype/facetime in for everything from getting ready, formal pictures, ceremony, reception, cake, toasts, dance party and everything in between. Although I wish I could have been by my little sister's side and joined in with my family I was certainly celebrating from afar. Photo credit to Pipyr Photo.
10. New food. SO much new food.
Myanmar was certainly not love at first taste, it has taken quite a while to find the true gems of the cuisine but now that we have there is no going back! Tofu Noway, Kay-O, Tomato Salad, Steamed Dumplings, Fried Tofu, Mohinga, and so much more. This year has truly been an adventure for my tastebuds alone now if only I could adjust to the spices.
9. Safari in Africa
No trip to Africa is complete without a Safari and I completely understand why. There is no experience like that of watching a baby zebra nuzzle it's mother or a herd of elephants protecting their young. Sure I've seen most of these animals in zoos before but being able to watch them in their environment, in their world can't compare. My favorite were the giraffes with their long legs and their even longer necks, seeing them galloping around on their stilt-like legs was quite the site.
8. Honeymoon in Cancun
Although we were crunched for time after our wedding with only two months before the big move we wanted to take a breather and enjoy married life. With our big adventure right around the corner we decided the perfect honeymoon would be relaxing on the beach with drinks in our hands so we headed to the best place for it, an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, Mexico. We spent five beautiful days with our feet in the sand, swimming in the spectacular pools, drinking all sorts of tasty beverages, indulging in choice restaurants, and enjoying our new time together as a married couple. Although it was hard to pull off (scheduling and other wise) this was the absolute best wedding choice we made and I will always look back on this time fondly. See the rest of the photos here.
7. Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival
Unforgettable experiences are around every corner of my new life in Myanmar, but certainly one of the most spectacular has been the trip we took in October to Inle Lake. We were very fortunate to visit at the time of the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival which is a celebration that involves ferrying around five giant golden buddha statues to each town in the lake. The lake is so big that it takes almost a month to complete the whole route. Not only did we get to watch the parade but we also got to experience the rest of the stunning Inle Lake including traditional leg-rowing fishermen, long-neck women weaving, traditional silversmiths, hand paper weavers, the floating gardens, and my favorite, the crumbling pagodas of Indein. (PS Blog post coming soon with sooooo many more photos)
6. Welcomed Baby Zane into the World
Zane Andrew Simmons joined the world on March 8th. I can't believe this little peanut is over 9 months old now! He is such a sweet little boy who has brightened every life around him since he arrived most certainly the lives of his parents, my sister, Andrea, and my brother-in-law, Steve. I have missed him dearly since I have been away, luckily Andrea has been great at sharing about all the milestones - big and small - with pictures, stories, and videos. Can't wait until I get to snuggle this little guy again!
5. Photographed 5 Stunning Weddings
Capturing the moments of one of the most special days in a persons life is an honor and privilege, I know that sounds cheesy but it honestly is. The joy, celebration, and love that fills a wedding is unparalleled. Leaving behind Adorn photography was very difficult for me because I truly loved every minute of photographing wedding and portraits. Within the first few months of the year I was invited by five spectacular couples to photograph their wedding days and each one was so very special. I am certain about few things in my future but one of them is that I know I will return to photographing weddings at some point in my life. For now I will enjoy using my passion to capture the world around me through my travel photography.
4. Spent the Holidays with Renee in Tanzania
Ask either of us just a few years ago if we thought we would be spending the holidays together on safari in Africa or on the beaches of Zanzibar and both Renee, my sister, and I would have simply laughed. Such an unlikely story for two small-town New Englanders. Yet, this is exactly where we found ourselves this holiday season, see just two weeks before my winter break from school Kim flew back to Maine to be with her ill father which left the perfect opportunity for me to hop the Indian Ocean to visit Renee. Renee has been living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for almost two years now where she freelances web design when she is not busy working on her passion of free diving and the resulting website www.seaunseen.com. We spent three amazing weeks celebrating the holidays, on safari, hanging out on the beach, diving, and having some much needed sister time.
3. Found Juicing and Lost 50 Pounds
It was actually December of 2012 that I started my health and fitness journey, dedicating most of 2013 to challenging myself physically and educating myself on proper health and nutrition. In January of this year I made the ultimate commitment to a 30 day juice fast and my life has not been the same since. Juicing allowed me to realign my expectations of food and reset my appetite. It not only gave me results in appearance but in self-confidence and strength of mind. With my juicing I finally felt in control of my body. I took the beginning of this year to fully commit to myself, focusing on goals like working out everyday and setting up a regular meditation schedule. It was an amazing time that I hope to revisit now that my life has settled down.
2. Moved 8151 miles away to Yangon, Myanmar
Without a doubt, the craziest thing that happened this year was packing up our belongings and moving to -literally- the other side of the world. Following my dream to teach abroad, Kim and I picked up and left everything behind (that couldn't fit in our 6 suitcases) to explore the world. Three days and 8151 miles later we found ourselves in a land like nothing we ever knew before. Myanmar has been everything we never expected, our time filled with awe, frustrations, curiosity, and a whole lot of laughter.
1. Married my Love
Without a doubt the most important day of 2014 was May 10th, the day that I married my love, Kimberly. As with any journey, who you travel with can be more important than any destination and nothing could have been half as wonderful this year without this amazing person by my side. Having someone to share in all of the adventures I have had this year and will continue to have into 2015 and beyond it the best thing I could ask for.
(Read all about our full wedding day here. Photo credit to Justine Johnson Photography.)
To start our journey we needed to travel to Bangkok where we would meet with ISM administration and the rest of the new teachers to learn how to get our The transit to Bangkok was long but not too bad overall. We left Portland at 7:45 pm and arrived in New York around 9:00pm. JFK was a HUGE airport and I was very glad that we had two hours before the next take off to find our gate and get through security. Leaving JFK around 11:00 pm we were so happy to be able to sleep finally (only getting a few hours the night before and having such an emotional day really put a toll on us). One of our best decisions was bringing our pillows in our carry-ons, we were nice and comfortable for the trip. I slept most of the 13 hour flight, waking up to eat the two meals and snack they provided as well as for a couple hours towards the end. Kim was up and down, getting a few hours of sleep in here and there.
Our stopover was in Dubai with a 2.5 hour layover. Just enough time to get through security, and jump online for a bit. It was 7:45 pm local time when we arrived in Dubai, which meant that we had another evening flight. We relaxed, napped a bit, watched some movies on our personal screen, and got another meal. For both of our long flights we flew Emerits. We were very happy with them, comfortable seats (or as comfortable as you can get on an airplane, active service,decent meals/drinks, personal screens with hundreds of movies, TV shows, games, and plane information. 6.5 hours later we stepped off the plane into Bangkok.
Two days after we left Maine we finally landed in Bangkok!!!
After checking into our spectacular hotel, The Furama, we were very happy to shower and get into a new change of clothes. We didn’t waste any time before we were out the door exploring. Of course we were in search of food! Knowing that the street food had more of a chance disagreeing with our western stomachs we decided early on to avoid the very tempting array of options from the many street vendors. Instead we were looking for more of a clean restaurant. After only a couple blocks we were stopped by a lady asking what we were looking for, we told her “food” and were pointed in the direction of a small shopping mall. We chose to eat at Mr.Lee’s for our first meal. I got a fried noodle dish with chicken and Kim got a rice dish with pork. Funnily enough, it ended up that both of our broths tasted exactly the same, beef gravy like but more liquidly and smoother. The meal was very tasty and ended up costing us 400B ($13 usd) including a small appetizer and a mango drink.
After our delicious meal we continued to wander, enjoying the many sights and smells of the city. There was just so much happening and so much to see! After a while we bumped back into the lady who showed us where to eat. She quickly picked up a conversation with us trying to see how else she could help us, asking if there was anywhere we wanted to go or see. Kim had been wanting to see about buying some chefs knives here which she attempted to communicate to the lady. Seeming to understand she quickly hailed us a tuktuk and negotiated with the driver. Not exactly sure where we were headed we hopped in and gave her a thankful nod goodbye. The tuktuk ride was fantastically fun! It was a great way to see the city, although there were some questionable moments when I feared for my life as the driver squeezed his way through traffic. Eventually he pulled up on the sidewalk and a doorman helped us out. We walked into the building only to find out that we were at a high class jewelry store. After a brief glance around we headed back to the tuktuk to explain to the driver that we were looking for knifes. There was a jumbled conversation but an agreement was found and we were off again. Before long we were ushered into another store, this time with tailored suits and dresses. I quickly turned around and demanded the driver return us to where he picked us up, he tried to argue but I was all finished being scammed – you see a lot of businesses will give the drivers money for bringing in perspective clients. He dropped us of just a couple blocks from our hotel and demanded 100B but I would give him no more than 40B since that was our original agreement. He finally conceded and we were glad to be finished with that. It was super fun to ride in the tuktuk but next time I will be sure we have a known destination before we get in.
Our first night in Asia was unforgettable. After sleeping for a couple hours, Kim woke up very hungry so we went off in search of food. The front desk of the hotel told us to go to the night market where we found hundreds of stands selling all sorts of goods; from clothing (modern and traditional) to knickknacks and souvenirs, there was so much to see. I bought a small hand-made journal for 60B ($2 usd), a pair of wrap around pants that I have yet to figure out how to wear correctly for 200B ($6 usd) and a pair of sunglasses for 300B ($9 usd). We found a restaurant to eat at called the Black and White Chef. I ordered a curry pork dish that tasted exactly like beef stew complete with the potatoes and carrots. Kim ordered some fried chicken with rice and we shared an amazing plate of fried dumplings (one of our all time favorite dishes that we were so looking forward to tasting and it did not disappoint).
Kim was determined to try a McDonalds burger so we continued on until we found a McD’s. The burger Kim says was not very good, just about the same quality that is in the US. I’m glad that she got her fix. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a fancy bar to have a beer and a glass of Champaign. It was very expensive and not very worth it except for the cheese cake that was pretty tasty. All in all that cost us 570B ($15 usd) – more than we have spent for both of our meals.
It was about 1:00 AM when we stumbled upon a funky looking bar with tables outside, we stopped to check it out when I was pulled to a seat by a energetic lady who we quickly found out was a South African named Michelle. The evening was filled with laughter, new friends, and exciting happenings. Michelle was good friends with the chef/owner of the bar who Kim made quick conversation with speaking of knives and cooking ingredients. I joined in on an impromptu soccer game in the middle of the street where I almost go hit by a car on multiple accessions, Kim convinced one of the restaurant helpers to giver her a ride on their motorbike, and we witnessed my first bar fight. We drank the night away as the kind owners who became fast friends, continued to bring us different bites to eat. As the sky grew lighter and the traffic grew heavier we watched the city wake up. We said goodbye to our new friends and grabbed a bite to eat at the nearest store.
Friday morning we met with the other ISM teachers at the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Everyone was very friendly with great energy and excited to be there. After we gathered together we hoped on a bus the school rented for us and were off to the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok which turned out to be only a few blocks away. The reason they wanted us all to meet in Bangkok was to show us the process of getting our visas because we will have to do it again every 10 weeks (70 days). For our visas we needed:
-A copy of our passports
-2 passport photos
-A registration letter from the school
-A letter stating the school as our visa sponsors
-My school contract
-2115 Bhats each (~$70, much cheaper than my school had told us it would be)
The process of getting the visas was mostly uneventful, the line was very long so we had to wait a few hours but it was fun to be with the group and begin getting to know everyone. We finished in enough time for us to go grab lunch before heading back to the hotel to get our things together. We decided to walk back to the hotel and stumbled upon a Hindu temple where this happened:
For lunch we chose a restaurant that didn’t have an English translated name so I don’t know what it was called. We ordered an appetizer of pork balls in a platter where you made your own wanton type things. We had no idea how to make them so we just guest. On the platter was also rice wrappers, cucumbers, pineapple, hot peppers (chilies), garlic, a green bitter thing. On the side we had a large bowl of various greens: lemon grass, green leaf lettuce, mint, Thai basil. To dip they gave us a big dish of sweet chili and peanut sauce which was unfortunately a bit too spicy for us. Kim had a tasty dish of crab noodle soup, the noodles were ramen like and the broth was similar to a clear consume and not overly fishy. I had a noodle dish with chicken, eggs, and peanuts. The noodles looked as if they were made from rolled up from the rice wanton things and they were so very delicious. The dish itself had a pad-thia type flavor but wasn’t saucy, I can not wait to eat it again! For dessert we grabbed some bubble tea, Kim got chocolate without any bubbles and it tasted almost exactly like Yahoo; for mine I had gotten one yesterday that was amazing but I tried a different kind and it tasted exactly like salt water. It was so gross! I went back and traded it in for the one I had before.
Before we knew it our bags were packed again and we were off to the airport. The only hiccup that came up was when they wanted to charge us an extraordinary amount for our overweight baggage. Luckily the group leader, Scott, took care of all of it from ISM. After a short 45 minute plane ride, and a quick line through customs, we retrieved our bags and were greeted by ISM. We were finally here, standing in Myanmar, the place where we will call home for (at least) the next two years.
Photographing my last wedding seemed strangely not strange. Andrea, my sister, joined me as my second photographer which was just perfect because we have been shooting together for the past few years and we always have a great time working with each other. Also, Nico & Teresa were married right in my home town (well, just next door). The day was beautiful and the wedding full of celebration. I couldn't have asked for a nicer wedding to be the temporary end to my official wedding photography adventures.
Sunday we moved more furniture and items to the storage unit with the help of Brian and Kirsten. Then it was off to my Mom's house to say goodbye and get my cat, Macy, settled in - Mom will be taking care of her while we are away. It makes me happy knowing she will be well loved. Afterwards we joined my family at my Dad's house for a big ol' family cookout. It was so bitter sweet knowing that this would be my last family gathering for almost a year but it was so fantastic to have such a warm and loving last weekend. Boy do I love all of these people!!! Tears were most certainly shed as hugs were squeezed a little tighter and held a little longer.
Monday was spent fervently packing our suitcases and clearing out the rest of the apartment. We made a trip or two to the storage unit and a run to grab another suitcase. In the end we each took two large suitcases and one carry on. Crazy to think that we managed to pack our whole lives away and pair down so much! It was a mad dash to get everything in it's place and be sure we had all of our important documents ready for departure. We stayed up into the wee hours of the morning making sure we had everything in order, including downloading ebooks and cramming the car/truck with suitcases.
Before we knew it Tuesday had arrived. Takeoff day. The day we leave the world as we knew it behind and set of on the adventure of a lifetime. It was a long and emotional day, one that we truly were not prepared for - emotionally at least.
It started off by clearing out the last few things from our apartment and making one final trip to the storage unit. Our next stop of the day was to Sue's house (a dear family friend) to show Frank and Beans, our other two cats, their new home. We are so glad that they will have lots of room to run and play in the woods and get into lots of trouble I am sure. Then off to Kim's parents house we went. We wanted to be able to say goodbye to them and also drop off our vehicles that they would be storing for us. After an early lunch and a tender farewell to Sonny and Ellie May, Kim and I loaded up the car and headed to Augusta with Robin and Sue (a dear family friend). When we got into town we made a couple stops to get the toiletries we were taking with us along with a few other important items we needed to purchase like a portable speaker. Also, we had to stop off to get some passport photos for our visa application. Time flew by and way too soon we were saying goodbye to Robin, Sue, Andrea and Zane (who had come to give one last hug). Amanda and Josh brought us down to Portland to meet up with my Dad, Pam, and Brian for a quick dinner, it was nice to have a hearty meal in our stomachs to help settle them down a bit. Then it was off to the airport where we checked in and got ready for boarding. Our last goodbyes were to my Dad, Pam, Brian, Amanda, Josh, and Natilee (who had met us down there). With a few more squeezes we turned to find our gate. And there we were ready for boarding to a place unknown.
It was beyond hard to part with everyone, words can't even say. It was most certainly the most difficult day of our entire travel.
There we were, sitting at our gate boarding pass in hand, about to embark on a expedition that was so grand, so unthinkable, it seemed to be just a dream up until now - sure to dissolve before it was grasped. Yet, it was here now. All of the planning and prepping seemed to be all a blur. Boarding pass in hand it all sunk in on how real this was. Kim and I kept looking at each other with knowing eyes that asked "Are we really doing this?" Even without asking the question we both knew the answer as we handed over our tickets and stepped into the plane that would be the beginning of a journey that is sure to change our lives in every way. Stay tuned, Myanmar here we come!
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world