Kim is out of quarantine. Penny is with us. We are in our new apartment. I feel that I can finally say that the moving to Vietnam mid-pandemic is over. I’m so happy! The last few days I have felt an overwhelming sense of joy and contentment. We have had so many months of uncertainty and worry, with plans A through Z and then some, it is surreal to finally be on the other side of it all. And now, now we can go on with all the fabulous things that come with arriving in a new country. Setting up house, exploring all the areas, trying all the new foods, finding adventures in the every day, and enjoying the sense of newness. That is exactly what I am trying to do now, not rush through this special stage of aw and new. Like our first Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) or exploring our neighborhood or getting to know new fabulous people.
School has been going wonderfully. It’s a rush to get the year started and an adjustment to these new grade levels. I am teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade which is a shift from Middle and High School that I’ve taught for the last few years. But I’m not a newbie when it comes to this age range either. I’m slowly rearranging my room and starting to get it set up for proper student agency. I’m so use to just focusing on having the right resources but now I feel that I can actually take the time to make my room a beautiful and inspiring place. No hurry though, I feel I’ll be here for awhile. Especially with the open-access COLOR photocopiers/printers ; ) This was the first week collaborative artwork that I organized with my fellow art teacher (grades 1-2), Nick. Each student drew themselves or something that represents them.
We had two more COVID tests, one and two weeks after our release. The last one was the absolute worst. The tester made me gag 3-4 times as he stuck the swab continuously down my throat. He was so rough with the nose swab that, for the first time in 8 tests, it continued to hurt for awhile afterward. I’m SO glad to be done with all of that.
On Monday I signed the lease to our new beautiful apartment. I absolutely love it! My top three priorities were a place close to school, that allows Penny, and is within our budget. This fits all of those while being nearly across the street from school. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to walk to school for the past five years and I didn’t want to have to deal with a commute. Additionally we were looking for at least two bedrooms and we got three! One master, one guest bedroom, and one art studio room. We wanted a huge kitchen for Kim with a nice stove and oven. This kitchen is so big and lovely, it has 3 gas burners and 2 electric ones, plus the owner bought us the biggest toaster oven I have ever seen! It also needed to have LOTS of natural light which is abundant in this apartment. It has the master bedroom on the backside of the building so it is nice and quiet and faces the sunrise where the rest of the rooms have glorious huge windows overflowing with light. Plus one whole wall in the living room is just a big glass sliding door. We were also hoping for wood flooring, check, and nice lighting, check check. There is also a perfect entry area with built in storage which I realized was important to me after looking at many apartments that opened directly into the living area. The place is fully furnished with a modern look (most had hideous furniture that we would have had to keep). In addition, we have a bathtub, two balconies, stunning molding throughout the whole place, a pool, AND the owner bought us a dryer! I seriously could not ask for anything more, we are so in love with this place!
Kim is so beyond happy to be out of quarantine. I took the day off from school to get her properly settled. It was such a joyous reunion!! To finally be here, all together, I just don’t have words. We spent the day walking around the neighborhood, buying pillows, trying some different foods, and wandering for hours around various grocery stores.
Penny has been enjoying our new place and neighborhood. She is pretty hot so we take her for a walk early early in the morning and later in the evening when the sun goes down. I’m happy to be in a quiet area where she can wonder off-leash without any problems. We've spent a chunk of change at the vet already for a gunky eye and getting her regular meds (heartworm, flea, tick, etc). We decided to become "members" at the vet which means for a fee we get unlimited consults for the year - I'm certain we will get our moneys worth. We did get caught in our first monsoon the other day. Penny was very unimpressed.
Over the weekend we ventured out of our area, District 7, for the first time. Friday night we went to a kitchen store about 15 minutes away and then walked around. We found a bustling street lined with food and drink stalls, produce sellers spilling out into the road, fish and meat sellers cutting up their goods (including plump still-hopping frogs), and so much more. It was rush hour which means there were motorbikes coming from every direction like a swarm of bees. It was insane and a bit much right off the bat. I was happy to return to our quiet, clean, open area of Phu My Hung.
Saturday we went off to another area, District 2, which had a fun hipster vibe to it. We searched a few boutique house-goods stores for the perfect dishes. I’m hoping to take advantage of this opportunity we have to set up a home completely from scratch by being very conscientious of what we buy for it. I intend to curate our home carefully and make it a beautiful, inspiring, and lovely place. Which means we are on the hunt for beautiful, inspiring, and lovely things. It was fun meandering around and looking through the shops. We bought some dishes that I’m happy with but I might just have a hand at making my own as well. Later on, we stumbled on the American style diner and had our full of milkshakes and burgers. Kim was super excited to get a stack of pancakes (something she’s been craving for weeks).
One of the fabulous things about Saigon is that you can get anything delivered. And I mean ANYTHING. It has become part of the culture here and is so convenient. We just got a beautiful new bed set delivered yesterday. Kim also picked up a big selection of plants for me and a new watercolor. I’m excited to start nesting and making this our ideal home.
As I mentioned in the last update, it was a struggle to do everything without Kim. But she managed to find a way to order me flowers and get them delivered to school even before she was out of quarantine.
Saw a rainbow while walking Penny and video chatting with Kim (while she was still in quarantine)
Went plant shopping and found this cutie straight out of a Dr. Seuss book
Breakfast time has been yogurt with mangos served in our drink glasses because we have not yet gotten any bowls. Plus a new notebook and pen for my morning pages.
Bubble tea and pedicures is my new weekly ritual.
I can finally say that the saga of moving is finally complete! Kim and I have begun the new chapter of our lives in Vietnam. I can’t wait to continue sharing all our adventures with you all. I want to thank each and every one of you who have reassured me over the last few months, who have listened to each and every part of this saga, and who are rejoicing with us from afar. I love you xoxo
Freedom never felt so good! The day we were released from quarantine was such a celebration! We all staggered out of our rooms, squinting from the sunlight that we haven’t been exposed to in two weeks. And it couldn’t have come sooner because we were all starting to feel it, slowly becoming one with our beds and loosing all semblance of motivation to do anything. It hasn’t even been a week since then but it’s been a whirlwind of getting acclimated to the neighborhood, starting school, and enjoying social time that doesn’t involve a screen.
When I first left quarantine and arrived at my airbnb I nearly had a breakdown. The security guards checked my temperature on the way into the building but it came up as 99.5* F (37.5*C) and they wouldn’t let me in the building. I tried to explain to them that I just came from quarantine and I just had a COVID test the day before, but they weren’t having any of it. No way were they going to let this strange foreigner chance infecting their entire building, even if it was only because it was my first exposure to SE Asian heat after 15 straight days in an air conditioned room. This was my first experience after the long long wait to get here and it was going horribly and I was about to break down when right then the new-teachers liaison called to check in. She arrived by my side within minutes of the call with a triage of help including the school’s head nurse. It took a few calls, the production of my quarantine certification, and a few more temperature checks, but finally they let me through.
After I dropped my bags and opened my welcome grocery bag from school, I joined the other new teachers in the area for my first real food out of quarantine, a veggie panini. Then I met right up with my real estate agent to see an apartment that was about to be snatched up by someone else. Afterward I headed straight over to the pet boarding house where Penny was waiting. Our reunion was as expected, without much excitement but with a lot of joy. The people who looked after her were so so sweet, one of them cried when we started to leave. But we made it back to the Airbnb fine and I took Penny on her first walk around the neighborhood. She was all about exploring her new turf. Although she is still just as stubborn about being on leash and has proceeded to lay down in the middle of the road while passing car drivers laugh at the two of us.
By the time I got back from the walk I was beat! I had only walked a mile or two but it was more than the last 15 days combined. I met up with my new friend Brianna for dinner at a craft brewery in my building before we did a quick shopping trip. I hate grocery shopping on a normal day, put me in a new foreign grocery store when I’m exhausted and the results equal two pints of ice cream, cereal, a dragonfruit, yogurt, bananas, water, and goldfish.
The next day I got to go into school for the first time. I met my new team of elementary specialists, along with a couple dozen other wonderful people. This is the largest school I’ve worked at with about 1200 students. I am one of three elementary school art teachers! It is fabulous to be a part of a team of teachers rather than the lone wolf tucked in a distant corner of the school that no one even knows where it is. And folks, brace yourselves, because I. HAVE. MY. OWN. CLASSROOM. Eeeeekkkk! For the first time in six years I will be able to take full ownership of my classroom space, get ready for a rainbow fiasco!!
It was a day chock full of meetings, greetings, and HR presentations. So many forms to sign. It was no wonder that all of us newbies ended up at a Kim-recommended Mexican place with pitchers of margaritas, telling stories and laughing away. But seriously, my new school is all sorts of amazing. Not only does it value innovation, but it expects it. I can finally teach the way that I know is best and have full support to push the boundaries of the current practice of Art Education. Plus I’ve fantastic colleagues that are doing the same and keeping the expectations high. I feel that this is a place where I will finally be able to reach my true potential as an educator while being fostered and encouraged.
Kim arrived early early on Wednesday morning. She is quarantining at the Holiday Inn and my school is doing an equally fabulous job at taking care of her, showering her with welcome baskets and fulfilling any requests she makes. We video chat every time I take Penny out for a walk so she is starting to get familiar with our neighborhood as well. I even took Kim on a long neighborhood walk the other day where we checked out the local restaurants and shops.
On Thursday we had student orientation during the day, and at night, a fabulous social for the newbie teachers with the admin at a local pub owned by a former student from school. Friday was go day, the official first day of school. I haven’t been in front of students for FIVE months, but as soon as they came in the room I snapped right back into my teacher mode. It was invigorating having them there and so so nice starting to get to know them. By the end of the day I was so energized that I rearranged my whole room. I can’t wait to see what it will look like in a month or two from now!
I started the weekend off by getting a very thorough two-hour long health check that included everything from a stomach ultrasound to teeth and eye checks. Then I went shopping for a care package for Kim. I tried to find the most strange and unusual foods I could which resulted in me getting seaweed Pringles, chicken nugget shaped chips, a Japanese poofy cheesecake, chicken flavored cheese spread, and ramen noodle snack bites. Plus a large range of ramen noodles including cheese flavored and a spaghetti version. Also a variety of local beers so she could have a little tasting party.
We had another social Sat night at the craft brewery again. I brought Penny down to meet the crew since everyone had heard all about her long journey getting here. She convinced many people to give her pets and belly scratches.
Sunday was all about apartment hunting and I’m so excited to share that I found a place that I LOVE! It fulfills all the requirements that we were looking for and more. It is only about 3 minutes from school and it is gorGEOUS!! We are working with the Realtor now to finalize the negotiations and will hopefully be able to move in next week! It also resulted in me taking my first motorbike ride with the landlord in between apartment buildings. It went well and was not scary at all! I think there is hope for me yet. I can’t wait until Kim can get a bike that we can take on all sorts of adventures.
It’s been a lot this week. But all good things. I’m just not used to landing in a place by myself. Usually Kim takes care of the home stuff so I can focus solely on work but I’m currently doing it all (well, doing as much as I can) as Kim waits eagerly to join. But I’m managing just fine and I’m simply glad that we are all finally in the same country. It has been such a long time coming, so many months of uncertainty and worry. And we are on the other side, nearly completely to the end of this insane journey. And you know what? I couldn’t be more glad. I am SO excited for this new adventure. (PS Here are a few extra snaps from the week)
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.
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:
16. Cruising into New Years in Vietnam
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.
01. 2nd Year Anniversary
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.
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world