Monthly Archives: August 2012

Qixi Festival i.e. Chinese Valentine’s Day

Today (August 23rd) is the Chinese Qixi Festival. When I read about the festival earlier this week, I knew I wanted to participate but there wasn’t a scheduled festival here in OKC so I had to make my own.

The Qixi Festival is held each year on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month to celebrate the reuniting of the seventh daughter of the Queen of Heaven, Zhinü to her mortal cow-herding husband Niulang. The folklore says that Zhinü came to earth to bathe and while she was in the water, Niulang’s bull told him that if he stole Zhinü’s clothes she would marry him. (Romatic, right?) The two fell in love, married, and had twins. While they were living happily, the Queen of Heaven found out that her daughter had married a mortal, so she kidnapped her and forced her back to the sky. Now Zhinü and Niulang are the stars Vega and Altair and are only allowed to meet once a year.

The festival is one of romance. Traditionally, the young women go to the temple of the match maker to make a wish for a mate or if newly married, they pray to get pregnant. The festival is also an opportunity to display their handiwork, where melon carving and embroidery are some of the more popular displays. But since the 1990s, the festival has also taken on a commercialized feel now being called Chinese Valentine’s Day.

For my own celebration of Qixi, I participated in several of the traditions, both old and new.

First I headed the to Asian District to do some grocery shopping. Unfortunately no one was celebrating the festival.

Embroidery was a craft once celebrated at the Qixi Festival.

At the festival, young women would try to float an embroidery needle. If it floated, they were considered a skilled artist. Mine sunk so I guess I’m not very skilled.

Hmmm…which to choose for Hubby? I think I’ll stick with the fortune cookie.

No melon carving for me today but Hubby did at least get the benefit of a good Asian-inspired meal last night.

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Abroad Blog of the Week: Our Dear Lady Expatriate

This Abroad Blog of the Week comes from one of my dream locations: Cambodia! Our Dear Lady Expatriate (or ODLE for short) was introduced to me by a study abroad colleague and friend, and I’ve now been reading her posts for several weeks. Although ODLE’s blog is just a few months old, her experience living abroad and teaching English is extensive. After living in South Korea for several years, she now finds herself in Cambodia and exploring her new host country. Her blog is full of fun fashion for the ESL teacher, weekly recommended links, and expat tips for living in Cambodia. I was able to catch up with the fun-loving Our Dear Lady Expatriate for a virtual interview and learn more about how her expat life all got started.

1. What got you started teaching English abroad and living the expat life?

I grew up in rural Ontario, and I never knew that a life like this was possible. I remember the excitement of going to university in Ottawa and thinking it to be such an immense city. During first year, I vividly remember attending a free information session about teaching ESL abroad and having my universe split open with possibilities. After the info session, I went straight home and wrote my Mom a 3 page email trying to persuade her to let me ‘take a break’ from university and go travel. Her reply was a definitive ‘no way’, and that was that…
…Until, in fourth year, I was connected, via a mutual friend on Facebook, to a rather handsome fella who was living and teaching in England. A whirlwind long-distance romance ensued, and despite only having ever visited each other for three weeks total over the next year, we made plans to run away together to Korea as soon as I graduated. Somehow we made it through the first year of getting to know each other in a foreign country while living in a studio apartment, and have been happily rambling about ever since.
So, at first, teaching was really just a tool that I used to attain the traveling life I desired. Since taking that initial contract, though, I’ve found that I was lucky enough to stumble upon my passion, and now teaching English is so much more than just a way to fund a ticket: it’s my chosen career, and I couldn’t be happier.

2. You’ve been abroad for some time. What made you decide to start your lovely blog just a few months ago?

Combine the fact that I’ve been obsessed with reading blogs for years with my general propensity towards writing, brainstorming and ‘doing,’ and I’m surprised it’s taken this long, too! Partly, I credit a couple of blogs that I’ve recently found and deeply connected with. Both the diverse mix of content on Yes and Yes and the work ethic of the girls at A Beautiful Mess have been inspiring, as has the success of each of these blogs and the strong community aspect of each.

Really, I think the ‘aha’ moment came when I was trying to find blogs in the ’20-something female expat living in Cambodia’ niche and came up empty. In fact, there are so many great backpacker blogs discussing this region (Grrrl Traveler, for one), but it can be a bit tricky to find quality stay-put-expat lifestyle blogs that regularly post. The discovery of this massive gap really acted as a swift kick to my behind to try my hand at generating my own content.

3. With your adventure-seeking taste buds, is there any type of food in Cambodia you won’t try?

Actually, I’m afraid you’re giving me more credit than I’m due! In any group, I’m bound to be the least likely to try the ‘odd’ items on the menu, and up until about a year ago, I was totally vegetarian. I constantly feel less than adventurous when dining out with my Partner In Crime, who tends to zero in on dishes like “Sea Cucumber Covered In Black Ant Sauce”. HOWEVER. One of my upcoming goals before my 27th birthday (the rest of which will be announced at the start of September on my site!) is to try frog, and another is to give fresh durian a proper go. Maybe they will be the turn-over-a-new-leaf moments that I’ve been waiting for? I really would love to amass some crazy food stories to shock my Grandma and my buddies alike! Stay tuned!

4. How has your move to Cambodia been different from your move to South Korea?

Personally, the first time I moved to Korea, at age 21, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that I was moving there with this guy who I was pretty sure I was in love with, and that it was a foreign country, bound to be chock-full of adventure. As aforementioned, the prospect of teaching really didn’t have that much to do with anything at that point. Now, discovering new systems of education in each country is a major part of the appeal, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to try out different methods, such as Montessori. Experience has also bestowed a confidence in myself that I know I’ll be able to hack it anywhere, which was glaringly absent throughout that first year in Korea!
Logistically, the two are very different. South Korea requires a lot of prep while still in your home country, but your travel expenses are paid and you walk into a life that’s been set up for you. In Cambodia, you hand out resumes in person and need to take care of travel and lodging yourself. In hindsight, I’m glad I got my expat footing in Korea before being left to my own devices in Cambodia.

5. How is learning Khmer going?

Well, I’m a month and a half into living here, and I’ve got the essentials (like giving directions) figured out, but little else. I’ve gotten a lot of use out of the bits and pieces that I know, though! Truly, every time I’ve attempted to speak in Khmer, I’ve gotten a lovely reaction from the listener, even if I’ve botched it. It’s very encouraging, and I’ve really been motivated by sincerely wanting to speak with the people around. The focus of the first couple of weeks was to set up my little life and to nab a job or two, and now I’m ready to dig in, starting with working on the pronunciation of common sounds, which are quite distinct from English. I’m keen to have my students stop giggling when I butcher the pronunciation of their names when calling attendance!

6. Do you have any “learn from my mistake” advice for future ESL teachers/expats?

For anyone moving to Korea, I would absolutely recommend putting the few days of study into learning how to read Hangul. It’s not nearly as difficult as you might imagine, and it will give you such a greater sense of belonging in your new home. I also generally found learning Korean gave me more empathy towards my students. The icing on the cake is that it will never fail to impress people (outside Korea) that you can phonetically read another alphabet! I wish I’d put the effort in the first time around.
I would also say that if you’re living in South Korea, there’s little excuse for not saving half your pay check. I didn’t do this the first year, and I cannot tell you where that money went. Cute stationery and hair bows? I don’t know! That’s something I did entirely differently the second year I lived there: every month, on the day I was paid, I would immediately send a pretty sizable chunk to my Canadian bank account. Soju’s cheap, Korean restaurants are cheap, transportation’s cheap, renting singing rooms is cheap – use the opportunity to bank some cash and fund some amazing future travels!

Thanks Our Dear Lady Expatriate for the interview!

Spontaneity and 25 Cent Cookies

Close your eyes. Oh wait, then you can’t read this. Ok, open your eyes but pretend you are in Tokyo or Paris or Buenos Aires. You are walking along off to one of the famous sights when something catches your attention – a street performer, a one-day sale at an interesting shop, discounted tickets to a matinee play that starts in 20 minutes. You put off your plans to see the Eiffel Tower until tomorrow and grasp spontaneity. The Eiffel Tower will be there tomorrow.

The thing is when I’m abroad, I have no problem with being spontaneous. I can easily change plans, fit in a spur-of-the-moment opportunity, or if something isn’t meeting my expectations, change directions and find something else. But when I’m at home, this doesn’t seem to be my norm. I make plans and stick to them. I have a calendar that I follow daily.

Saturday night Hubby and I had a plan. I had found a blues and arts festival in the events section of the newspaper and we had decided to go. It started at 6pm so we left our apartment at 5:30 knowing it was at a park in Langston, OK. We got on Old Highway 33 and started looking for the park but suddenly we were at the end of Old 33. So we turned around and drove it again. All of the sudden we saw two small canopies and a few cars parked on the side of the road. What we expected to be a blues festival consisted of one man playing the clarinet and two tables with jewelry. The funny part was we had to pay to get in. So we threw that idea out the window and spontaneity had to kick in (especially because we had no cell phone service in Langston, OK).

We drove down the road to another small town called Guthrie, OK, parked in the historic downtown and started walking. We found a BBQ restaurant full of people with cowboy hats (it must be good, right?) and then discovered there was a bluegrass concert around the corner. After having some delicious baby back ribs and mac-n-cheese, we walked a block to Byron Berline’s Double Stop Fiddle Shop & Music Hall, home of  bluegrass champions, the Byron Berline Band. We walked in at 7:30 and for two hours were delighted with great music, humorous banter between the band, and the cheapest cookies and coffee we have ever seen.

Morale of the story: Spontaneity is not just for travel. While I was abroad, I learned to be flexible and go with the flow but I don’t practice those skills enough. Perhaps if I did, I would have more evenings filled with great music and 25 cent cookies.

 

The historic downtown of Guthrie, OK

You’ll see plenty of cowboy hats at Boneyard BBQ

Byron’s Double Stop Fiddle Shop sell fiddles as well as teaches lessons

The Music Hall is decorated with t-shirts on the ceiling but it packs out regularly with over 200 bluegrass lovers

We loved the concession stand at intermission! 2 cookies and 2 coffees for $1.50

 

 

Hygge at Home

On my last day in San Diego, a good friend returned home after working in Europe with a study abroad program for the summer. Most of her time was spent in the Netherlands but she was also able to go back to Denmark, where she had studied abroad several years ago. When I picked her up from the airport, not only was I the beneficiary of some great tales (falling off bikes, strange roommates, and watching the American Olympic basketball team in Spain), but also of two handmade candle holders from the Danish harbor.

In her note that accompanied, she explained their significance.

In Denmark they use a lot of little candles in the homes, esp. in the cold dark winters months. When I was studying there, I really treasured coming home, sitting around with all the lights & talking the night away with my host family. This cozy atmosphere is called “hygge” in Danish.

Hygge is a word that really doesn’t translate in English. But in addition to my friend’s explanation, I did find some Danes’ interpretations of hygge.

As I sit in our cookie-cutter apartment with rented furniture and dishes, I am ever so thankful for these two little candles. They remind me of San Diego and all the good friends and wonderful conversations I had there. They also give me hope that soon OKC will feel that way too.  Thanks, KE, for sending a little hygge with me.

Whether you are at home or abroad, I hope all of you, dear readers, find a little hygge in your day.

One Lovely Blog

A big thanks to Brilliant London for nominating Global from Home for the One Lovely Blog Award. Now that we are moved and I’m feeling slightly settled in OKC, I am ready to bestow the honors to others. So here are the rules:

1. Link back to the blogger who nominated you (thank you, Brilliant London!)

2. Paste the award image on your blog, anywhere.

3. Tell us 7 facts about yourself

  1. When my Hubby is out of town, my meal of choice is cheese and crackers.
  2. My favorite trip was to El Calafate, Argentina with my best friend. She threw up on me after eating bad sushi but it only made the trip more memorable.
  3. If I could go any where in the world right now, it would be a toss up between Cambodia and Egypt.
  4. My mom always taught us, “Where there is a will, there is way.” The older I get, the more I agree with her.
  5. I have pictures of me with two celebrities: Jimmy Carter and Oscar the Grouch.
  6. Currently I am applying for a PhD program in higher education and hope to start classes in January.
  7. I have read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at least 6 times.

4. Nominate 15 other blogs you like for this award (this is the fun part)

  1. William Penn University Study Abroad Blog – it is so much more than just a study abroad blog. Karolyn amazes me daily with her creativity.
  2. Turkish Musings – Haley is headed to Istanbul in just a few weeks
  3. Mary in Haifa – Mary is a study abroad professional heading back to school…in Israel
  4. Parallel Life – one of my favorites blogs of a couple traveling the world together…I think they’ve been nominated for this a bunch but I don’t care…so good
  5. French Paintings – an expat artist in the South of France learning and painting the landscape
  6. Postcards Wall – this simple blog shares one of my passions: postcards and stamps from around the world.
  7. You Bloody Tourist – a British student ramblings and adventures in Australia and beyond
  8. Salaam Y’all – a new Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia
  9. Will Travel with Kids – with her two young daughters by her side, this blogger explores the world around her
  10. Freedom Abroad – Katie is spending a year abroad and exploring all she can do for free
  11. World Lit Up – reading a book from each of the 194 UN recognized countries
  12. News from a Broad – Benne’ is an art therapist who has moved her life to Merida, Mexico
  13. College Forever – a great blog for anyone considering a career in higher education
  14. Travel.Culture.Food – a fantastic blog to help plan your travels. She even takes requests!
  15. Partners for Peace – another one of my favorites, Mari and Paul are Peace Corps volunteers in Ecuador

5. Post a comment on each of your nominees’ blogs telling them about the nomination

I promise to have this done in the next 24 hours

Hometown Tourist: Oklahoma City National Monument

You may have seen my post earlier this week on 100 Ideas to be Global from Home. Included in the list are many ideas that I haven’t tried yet myself. For example, I’ve never had an international potluck, never learned an international card game, and I definitely do not know the names of all 194 UN-recognized countries. I do hope to remedy these, but I want to tackle some earlier than others, like #33: explore your own city like it was a foreign destination.

When I travel, I tend to visit the well-known stops but it is often the little things that I get the most excited about. In Rome, while I enjoy the Colosseum, the Vatican, and the Capitoline, I much prefer the quiet and less visited Roman Rose Garden, Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, and Palazzo Colonna. But when I’m at home, I never even think about going to a museum or reading the placards in parks or taking pictures of a monument unless I have out-of-town guests. Well, new city, new me. I hope to explore OKC just like it were Berlin, Bangkok, or Bogota, visiting the famous landmarks as well as the hidden treasures my new city has to offer.

It just so happens that I came to this conclusion yesterday morning after dropping Hubby off for a 7am meeting. I was to meet the realtor at 8am and with time to kill, I went downtown, parked and began walking the streets with camera phone in hand. It wasn’t long before I realized where I was – at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the monument in honor of the 168 who died in the OKC bombing in 1995, as well as for the survivors and rescuers. As the sun came up in Oklahoma, I believe this was the best place to start my journey of exploring my city.

To Whom Do You Owe The Credit?

Do you ever really think about what or who inspired your desire to travel?  For part of my job, I read and critique scholarship applications for study abroad students.  Frequently the essay question is “Why do you want to study abroad?”  It is generally answered with one or all of the following cliches: “I want to immerse myself in culture,” or “I want to travel the world,” or the worst, “I want to broaden my horizons.”  If I’ve heard these responses once, I’ve heard them a thousand times.  I always want to grab the student’s shoulders, shake them and say “Why do you REALLY want to do this?”

Of course advising others has made me REALLY think about my own honest answer to what inspired my desire to travel. When I think back to what sparked my own interest, I believe I have these people to thank:

  • My next door neighbors – I grew up on a street in Minneapolis that was inhabited by mostly retirees.  Walt and Phyllis lived next door and frequently babysat me when my mom went back to school.  They were avid travelers and would regularly take me with them to the travel agency where I was allowed to take out all the catalogs and look through the pictures.  They also always brought be back a trinket and coins from every place they went. It took me a long time to realize what an influence they had on me from such an early age.
  • Hun Win, my childhood best friend – She lived across the street and her family immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan.  I will never forget the smell of Asian cooking that constantly permeated their home, how Hun Win would alterate between Mandarin and English so swiftly, and just how disciplined her and her brother were with finishing home and practicing the piano. It was my first experience with another culture and I was drawn to how different her home was to mine.
  • Sra. Strauss, my high school Spanish teacher – I remember speaking jibberish as a kid pretending it was another language; I loved the idea of knowing a language other than my own.  Sra. Strauss helped turn my jibberish into something useable. She exposed me to language and culture with patience, humor, and love.  While I was never very good at Spanish, I have to say that what she taught me in high school has actually gotten me by quite a few times.

 I’m curious, what or who inspired you to travel?

To the Berglunds, Hun Win, and Sra. Strauss, I am indebted to each of you for sharing the world with me. Many thanks!