Tag Archives: abroad

Strolling through Seoul

27 Jan
Ihwa Mural Village

Ihwa Mural Village

Our China University was specially blessed this year with an entire 2.5-month long winter vacation before classes start up again, and the foreign teachers here make the most of their free time.  Many of us have headed off to such exotic locations as Bali, New Zealand, Australia, Heinan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, India, Tibet – even the stunning ice scultures of Harbin here in China!

Personally, I decided to return to the charming city of Seoul, South Korea.  Have you ever watched the old Harrison Ford movie, “Sabrina”?  I always remember that quote: “America is my country, but Paris is my home.”  That kind of reminds me of Seoul, America is my country, but Seoul is my home.  The part modern/ part ancient artistic buildings centered around the lovely Han River and filled with lovely, kind-hearted people always brings out the calm, secure feeling that soothe my soul and rest my spirit. I could spend months just wandering from shop to cafe to palace to park, listening to the sweet locals and getting in touch with the looser, more contented me.


This time, I was able to bring along my mother, who had never seen the city before but wanted to get a glimpse of the place that has captured my heart.  We were initially planning to stay for 2 weeks, but plans changed and we only spent 1 went out and about the town.  Although Spring is definitely a prettier time to visit, having the tourist sites mostly to yourself and looking at all the winter products up for sale was pretty sweet.  If you do visit in the winter, I highly advise that you visit the many, many, many unique cafes scattered around the buroughs.  Try out their “Peppermint White Chocolate” and a Blueberry BelgiumWaffle while watching the world go by outside the windows and tell me you don’t fall in love with the city too. ❤

Seoul is a place to have fun and take your time, you simply shouldn’t try to rush through everything. I know there is a lot to see, and you feel like you need to get ahold of all of it, but you run the risk of loosing the real feel of Seoul in the process.  I wouldn’t say Seoulites are a slow-paced as the Spanish or some of the the Latin Americans, but they definitely like to wander thorugh life to the beat of a slower drum.  You get up a little later, and grab breakfast at a hidden coffee shop.  Then you meander through the winding shopping streets to visit one of the many palaces, stopping for ice cream and a hot chocolate for an afternoon snack. Sit there for a while, chatting and looking at all the sparky fashions walking past you, then slowly wander home via a different path.  Maybe stop at a small park on the way home?  Someone once said Seoul was like a Southern Drawl – you talk slowly, throwing in a few “dahlings” and “sweethahts” to create a classy charming feeling. Don’t miss out on that feeling or you’ll miss the spirit of Seoul.  It’s indescribable.


  • Take Your Time! If you have limited time, just visit one of the palaces or history museums.  Pick up either Building 63 or Namsan Tower – don’t try to do both.  It’s much better to move at your own pace and enjoy the sites you do see than to feel harried and rushed to see it all.  I say this because there is a LOT to see, and you just can’t make it everywhere in a week.
  • Test Out New Taste Buds! ~ Belgian Waffles, Italian Pasta, Chinese Peking Duck, Mexican Tacos, and Korean BBQ – Seoul has it all.  Don’t be too picky about the foods you try – be adveturous!  I admit I’m just not the greatest fan of street food or trying new dishes, but in Seoul you really should make the effort.  Their Ox Bone soup is delicious and the Chicken Galbi is to die for.  Some of the foods will look stranger than they taste. Korea actually uses a lot of the same ingredients as Americans (carrots, celery, green pepper, chicken, pork, fish, noodles, garlic, lettuce, ginseng, etc), they just put them together in unique ways.  And I msut say, the end result is often pretty yummy.
  • Watch your $$$ ~ Seoul has gotten a lot more expensive in the last two years, even since I was there last summer.  Taxis now run a minimum fee of 3,000 Won (~ $3), and other items have copied the higher priced trend.  Coffee shops easily cost as much as US stores, as do many shopping locations.  It’s a lot easier now to find yourself spending a ton of money unexpectedly. I recommend taking out a set amount of money each day (Woori bank doesn’t usually charge an ATM fee and we took out about 200,000 Won per day and split it between the two of us), and forcing yourself to stick to that.
  • Housing ~ While I usually recommend that you stick with the hostel idea for cheaper housing, I know that for some people this isn’t feasible.  My mother injured her back and couldn’t climb the stairs at our hostel and we had to find a place with a comfortable bed and a elevator for not a horrible price.  One of the other places you can check out are the Love Motels.  It sounds sketchy, but they aren’t as questionable as you might think. In a country where many couples still live in a home with both of their parents and their children, private time can be hard to come by. So there are a lot of “Love Motels” that rent by the night or hour for not a lot of money, and they are usually pretty nice.  We found one that had 2 beds, a large flat screen tv, a in-room computer, free wifi, a huge bathroom and bath, lovely wooden heated floors, and sweet desk clerks for only 60,000 a night. It’s a little pricey, but better than the upper level hotels and just as nice to stay in.
  • Buy a subway pass ~ Now that the taxi costs have gone up, it will save you a lot of money to pick up a subway pass, even if just there for a few days.  The subways are brilliantly easy to use and most directions are based on coming out of the closest subway stop.
  • Check out some of the stranger sights if you have time! ~ There is a trick-eye museum and lots of street art if you are interested. There are also some really artsy student shops near the university areas, and plenty of hiking expeditions to check out.  Don’t just focus on getting from tourist site to tourist site. Walk around a bit at each stop, and don’t be afraid to check out a small alley. You never know what cool thing’s you’ll find!

Check out our Itinerary Here!


Namdaemun market

13 Jan

They seriously have 50 billion of everything here!


Happy Winter Solstice!

22 Dec

In China, the shortest day of the year is a pretty big holiday full of yummy food, friends hanging out together, and lots of memories.

 It is especially important this year to my seniors.  College in China is arranged a little bit differently than in America, or at least the program here at SIAS is.  The seniors won’t really be returning next semester; they will spend their final time at college working on a major thesis and getting practical experience in the big wide world.  While many of them have decided to stay in the area, life is changing for them right now.  No more classes all together, no more busy dorms and exciting group activities await them.  Mostly its a time for timid dreams and future worries; a time when they are reminded of just how precious this 3.5 year period, and these wonderful friends, have actually been.  

For the past seven semesters, each set of students have lived together (dorms are divided by major and year), studied together (as freshman, they are divided by major and exam-score, so that each group of students has every class with the same students for the rest of the school career), played together (KTV, KTV, KTV!!!), and grown together.  They encourage and prod and love each other to death for this brief, but much beloved time. Then, as it does for all college students, it ends as quickly as it began.  Suddenly, they find themselves drifting in different directions, with this one headed to Shanghai, that one to Australia, and these two King’s College in England.  They are realizing just how scary that future is and trying to cling to as much of their time together as they can.

Thus, Winter Solstice, the last holiday before the semester ends in China, is an especially important one for my students this year.  According to tradition, people must get together and eat dumplings on the Winter Solstice; otherwise their ears will freeze in the coming winter and they will both fall off.  Supposedly, eating ear-shaped dumplings will help you keep your ears warm in the future. It’s a time for friends, fun, and storing up great memories for the present. A time to love and remember that you are loved.  

So, in honor of my much beloved, parting students; they would like me to wish you the same spirit of the season. We would like to wish you all a very happy Winter Solstice. May today’s dumplings be your best dumplings! May all of your friends be present! and May all of your Memories be Cherished.


Life in China: Bring Your Towels

2 Nov

On the random list of things to bring when you move to China, I’d probably put towels pretty high on that list.  A lot of schools or housing places will provide you with one big towel, a hand towel, and a washcloth.  And you can always find those at the local Waka (said Wanja – I know, I don’t get it either).

But it you are the standard American, addicted to the soft fluffiness of your large snuggly king-size towels, you need to bring your own.   All of the Chinese towels are the thin, cheap version you would expect at a 3-Star hotel.  Just generally un-productive. I’d leave the hand towels and wash cloths behind; just bring a generic white fluffy towel.


Only Abroad. . . “Fur Seal Capsules!”

12 Oct


Airline Reviews: United Airlines

26 Aug





United Airlines (United)–Domestic (1 flight) from DEN to IAD.  


Boeing 737

Pre-flight Interactions:

My university paid for and arranged the flight tickets, so I have no idea how that process went down.  We just got the e-ticket confirmation and got ready to go.  I will say that when I got to the airport, I had’t had time to check my baggage weight.  Since I was there all night, the attendants at the Check-In counter allowed me to weigh my bags on their scales while no one was in line.  They also looked up our flight information during off hours because we were concerned about when we had to check our luggage.

Baggage Allowance:

First/Business Class: 70lbs and 62 linear inches per bag

Economy: 50lbs and 62 linear inches per bag

You can find all the rules here, but generally you get a personal item (I always make it a backpack because it counts as a purse but is bigger), a carry-on, and 0-1 checked bags.  United pretty much screwed us on this one though.

There were three problems with how they handled everything. First of all, everyone was charged $100 per bag for all second bags.  However, their website states that the same flight should charge $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second.  It should only cost $100 for “oversized bags.”  We did not have oversized bags (remember, I weighed them on their scales).  This means they cheated each person out of $40.  NOT OKAY.

Second, The deal is usually that if you are flying internationally (and we were), all airlines  honor the baggage requirements/allowance of the airline with the longest flight (if tickets are all bought together–not separately).  For contracted airlines, this is often a rule. For unconnected airlines, it is typically a courtesy.  We were flying Air China, which allows 2 checked suitcases for our international flight. United refused to abide by the traditional courtesy even after we explained that we were all moving to China and needed the expected courtesy extended. They were very uncooperative.

Third, United attendants in Denver agreed that United would pay for our carry on suitcases clear through to our final destination. However, when we reached the transfer point in DC, they suddenly didn’t want to stand by that promise and we were looking at additional charges from Air China because United had backed out.  It was only after we spoke with Air China, that the Air China attendants called up a manager who worked it out and got the carry-ons checked clear through—another area where Air China pulled through when United failed.  Read on for the rest of that debacle.


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Leaving Iowa

19 Aug

Hi everyone! Sorry for being such an absent friend recently.  Honestly, packing and preparing for the move was absolutely crazy ~ 6 weeks of garage sales and two weeks of all-nighters packing and cleaning and preparing items for storage.  Even so, I don’t think things actually got real until the girl walked away with my bed.  Then for the next week, I was living off the floor ~ sleeping on pillows and makeshift blankets. Between that and no internet since July 31, I was soooo ready to hit the road 🙂  It has been just mind and body-exhausting! 0_0  

We finally finished everything after 72 hours straight working on what was left and we headed out of Iowa City at 4:06 in the morning.  Lol, we were so exhausted we kept having to change drivers to keep ourselves awake. . . we were playing a question game and it took my mom 16 minutes to think through “What is your favorite flower” even though she’s worked with them all her life.  😛  

Then, after an 8 hour drive, we arrived yesterday in Fort Hays, Kansas at the local Sleep Inn.  It’s a lovely hotel, has a swimming pool, hot tub, and we even got a room with a lovely little sitting area ~ perfect for finishing up the last minute law and personal chores before leaving the country.  

2014-08-18 21.08.49

One of which includes finding out how to get my medication (got too busy to buy it before).  Anyone know whether you can buy Zantac (Ranitidine), Claritin (Loratidine) and Benedryl in China?  If not, I’ll just pick some up in Wal-Mart tomorrow or the next day. 🙂 

On a related note, you should see how much we brought with us still.  The pile is so enormous, I took a picture for posterity! 20140818_171517_resized


We finally moved down from a filled 3-bedroom home to a truck full coming from Iowa to Missouri. Then we met up with my aunt and further compacted everything into a jeep.  Now, I have to figure out how to narrow it all down to just two suitcases and a carry on. 

A little worried about the carry on, since we are flying with Air China which has a 11 lb limit on the carry on.  I’ll probably be over, but I’ve been told that they are not as rigid about that rule as long as you can pick it up and fit it into the overhead container.  Here’s to crossing our fingers. . . . 🙂

We were very happy to get our VISAs and Passports on time last week; several members of the team have yet to receive theirs and they are slowly panicking.  We’ve been told though that everything should work out.  Apparently, a whole bunch of people supposed to prepare and sign the papers for the VISAs went on vacation and it took a little longer than expected to get everything working again.  Still, mom and I have ours so we are ready and raring to go!

We leave Hays, Kansas on August 22 and take a bus down to Denver. Then our Flight Schedule is:

  • Denver to Washington DC (August 23, 8:18 am – August 23,1:40 pm) on United Airlines 1297.
  • Washington DC to Beijing (August 23, 5:00 pm – August 24, 6:40 pm) on Air China 818.
  • Beijing to Zhengzhou (August 24, 9:30 pm – August 24, 11:05 pm) on Air China 1331.

If you look at a flight map, you’ll see that our DC-Beijing flight actually goes over the Arctic!  Mom and I have tickets that are a little unique from the rest of the group since they ran out of space for four of us on the plane that the majority are taking on the evening of the 22nd.  So the four of us get to spend the night in a hotel and then start off early the next morning which should be pretty nice.  

Can’t wait for the exciting moment of stepping onto the plane!  I’ll post photos and keep everyone updated! 🙂



Hitchhiking in Italy: The Worst Travel Decision I Ever Made

3 Aug

Hitchhiking in Italy: The Worst Travel Decision I Ever Made

by Glynnis MacNicol via “Yahoo News

There I was, age 19, exactly 24 hours after setting out on a three-month tour of Europe, walking along the narrow shoulder of a busy freeway on the outskirts of Naples — then considered the most dangerous major city in Western Europe — bent under the weight of my backpack and the near-paralyzing fear that I would not live to see the sunrise. It was the middle of the night. My friend Angie and I had just been unceremoniously dumped from the cab of a transport truck onto the side of a busy exit ramp and left to fend for ourselves.

From the start, it had been one of those episodes that, if it had gone another way, would have been the sort of headline-making story fellow travelers shake their heads at in an “obviously, this is what happens when you’re an idiot” way and parents brandish as a dire warning to children setting out to travel for the first time.

Hitchhiking in Italy: The Worst Travel Decision I've Ever Made (Shocker, I Know!)

(Photo: Thinkstock)

In my own defense, the one good thing I can say about the worst travel day of my life is that I got all of my stupid out in 24 hours.

It was May 1994, and after living and working in England for six months on a working holiday visa, my friend Angie and I decided to spend the summer backpacking around Western Europe. We had in our possession overly stuffed backpacks, one tent, and a copy of Lonely Planet’s guide to Western Europe (the first edition having just been released a few months earlier).


A dog-eared copy of the author’s Lonely Planet guide. (Photo: Glynnis MacNicol)

We planned to give new meaning to its “on a shoestring” tagline with about $1,500 in traveler’s checks between us, plus one emergency credit card each with an individual spending limit of $1,000. Instead of planning out a route, we opted to meet at Gatwick airport, find the cheapest flight, and buy a one-way ticket, which, after 36 hours of hanging out in the terminal, is exactly what we did — to Corfu, Greece.


Average China Teacher’s Salary

26 Jun

This page from AbroadChina.org offers a really great list of average salaries in the different areas of China.  The list of local resident and teach salaries tells you at what level you can expect to live, while the list of foreign teacher’s salaries lets you know if your pay is the equivalent to the Chinese Standard in the area.  Admittedly, it was based on 2003-2005.  Still, Great Resource!

Base Monthly Pay Only
Location Foreign Teacher① Chinese Teacher② Urban Resident③ Rural Resident④
 National Level 1,942.00
(High School or Elementary School)
897.56 234.39
 Anhui 3,150-4,050 880.83 727.11 199.15
 Beijing 3,850-4,950 2,214.00 1445.41 627.97
 Chongqing 3,014-3,875 994.33 907.12 188.11
 Fujian 4,030-5,182 1,211.08 1032.18 338.39
 Gansu 3,241-4,167 1,038.83 737.93 123.20
 Guangdong 4,150-5,336 1,533.67 1283.76 362.74
 Guangxi 2,722-3,500 900.50 790.30 192.93
 Guizhou 4,283-5,250 813.42 704.67 126.39
 Hainan 2,917-3,750 1,054.08 746.62 242.44
 Hebei 2,970-3,819 873.83 603.26 251.31
 Heilongjiang 3,617-4,650 1,091.00 657.90 251.59
 Henan 2,902-3,731 888.83 842.91 178.13
 Hubei 3,098-3,983 949.58 756.32 200.78
 Hunan 3,138-4,034 1,014.83 639.52 245.46
 Inner Mongolia 2,917-3,750 971.75 799.01 227.67
 Jiangsu 3,150-4,050 1,258.92 976.84 395.22
 Jiangxi 3,684-4,737 834.42 731.57 207.06
 Jilin 3,135-4,031 994.25 726.55 251.22
 Liaoning 3,650-4,694 1,070.33 776.34 318.12
 Ningxia 2,800-3,600 1,130.17 672.12 224.36
 Qinghai 2,667-3,429 1,055.67 790.96 148.41
 Shaanxi 3,354-4,312 931.50 746.83 168.47
 Shandong 2,975-3,825 1,046.83 906.98 320.90
 Shanghai 4,529-5,823 2,057.17 1661.96 704.08
 Shanxi 2,882-3,705 883.42 821.54 157.15
 Sichuan 3,182-4,091 980.75 712.92 207.92
 Tianjin 2,333-3,000 1,421.92 1118.86 458.34
 Tibet 2,342.50 723.59 115.83
 Xinjiang 2,800-3,600 1,186.92 732.96 165.11
 Yunnan 2,333-3,000 1,065.50 725.84 141.43
 Zhejiang 3,911-5,029 1,852.58 1454.08 610.16

Art I Love ~ Local Dance

7 Jun
Bhutan Local Dancers

“Local Dance” by Brooke

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