7 Steps to an Epic Vegas Vacation

I spent the week of Memorial Day in sunny, beautiful Las Vegas. I’ve been planning this trip , on and off , for five years so when I finally touched down at McCarran International , I felt like I knew … Continue reading

Best of China: Floating Around in the Venice of the East

If Suzhou sounds unfamiliar to you, it’s probably because you’re used to hearing one of its many nicknames. Also referred to as “Heaven on Earth” or “The Water Town”, it is best known as the “Venice of the East”. Although I haven’t seen the real Venice, if it’s half as beautiful as this tiny,traditional town , I can see what all the fuss is about.

Like its sister over in Italy, the city of Suzhou is built over and around a series of canals and waterways. Shortly after arrival, my group headed to a private boat tour of the canals and a traditional village built on its banks.

A bridge view of Suzhou  ©thepinkepat

A bridge view of Suzhou
©thepinkepat

The trip down the canal was long and very scenic. Red lanterns and intricate stone carvings decorated either side. Most interesting ,however,was watching the people go about their daily lives. People sat on the steps of their houses and washed dishes, did laundry, and even bathed their pets.

Houses on the bank  ©thepinkexpat

Houses on the bank
©thepinkexpat

House on the bank ©thepinkexpat

House on the bank
©thepinkexpat

Dogs get to enjoy the water too!

Dogs get to enjoy the water too!

After turning down a particularly narrow street, our boat drifted towards a stone staircase. Hidden just beyond the stairs was the entrance to the village.

Inside , the village was a crowded maze of activity. Even though crowds quickly parted to stare at the foreigners, it was difficult to maneuver. If you weren’t careful, you could wander into the path of a biker or into a chicken coup ( seriously !).  The village was mainly a huge marketplace; a quick walk took us past displays of clothing and fresh and live food stands.

Live birds for sale ©thepinkexpat

Live birds for sale
©thepinkexpat

On the last afternoon in Suzhou, I had the opportunity to visit  The Master of the Nets Garden which also happens to be a  UNESCO World Heritage Site.  On the day I was here, it was nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit and people were more interested in finding a bit of shade than really exploring. It was lucky I took the time to snap a few pictures so I could at least reflect on the beauty later on in my air-conditioned apartment.

The courtyard of the garden. ©thepinkexpat

The courtyard of the garden.
©thepinkexpat

Entrance to the Garden  ©thepinkexpat

Entrance to the Garden
©thepinkexpat

Pretty but no idea what it means

Pretty but no idea what it means

If you’re ever exploring China and need a day to recharge, Suzhou would be the perfect place. Because it’s a smaller town, the attractions weren’t as overwhelming. There’s a lot of beautiful sites to soak in before heading off to the nearby, hustling Shanghai.

Top-Ten Tuesdays: Favorite Korean Foods

10. Waffles

blog.korea.net

blog.korea.net

My students buy these in prepackaged bags and try to munch on them in class.

9. Teok Rice Cakes

Korean rice cake dessert

Korean rice cake dessert

I didn’t like these at first, but with my school handing them out nearly every week, they’re growing on me.

8.  Rice Stew

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Leftover rice is allowed to boil until nearly burned. If seasoned with juices from leftover meat, this is delicious.

7.Soju

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The most popular alcohol choice in Korea by far.

6. Mandu Soup

koreataste.org

koreataste.org

Meat-filled dumplings in soup. Very simply and very delicious .

5. Instant Kapi

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Kapi is how “coffee” is pronounced in Korea.While Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts blot every corner, instant coffee seems to be popular, especially in office settings.  Everything-coffee,sugar,and cream-comes in one cute little package.

4.Japchae

yelp.com

yelp.com

Noodles and vegetables in a brown sauce. It  tastes amazing.

3. Tteokbokki

dukbokki and soup

dukbokki and soup

One my favorite Korean meals so far. Spicy, circular rice noodles in a spicy red pepper sauce.

2. Bulgogi

commons.wikimedia.org

commons.wikimedia.org

Flavorful beef cooked on a table-top grill. When it’s done, you wrap it in a lettuce leaf and make a scrumptious type of Korean taco.

1.Bibimbap

bibimbap

bibimbap

A mixture of ground beef,vegetables, and rice topped with a spicy red sauce. If you want to try the best of the best, head to Jeonju, the home of Bibimbap.

Have a favorite Korean dish or top-ten list of your own? Comment below!

The Best of China: Learning Mongolian on The Great Wall

My days in Korea are filled with school, Skype sessions home, and more school. So, I was very much looking forward to a week of new sites and experiences. Luckily, if there is any word to describe my time in China, it would be new. Completely novel,unique, unfamiliar and – at times – baffling.

In eight days I saw four different cities, took a flight, and spent a night on a  train in the countryside. It would be impossible to share every moment so I’ll settle for recounting my most memorable parts of the trip in a new series called The Best of China. There will be a new post about my trip every week in August.

The Great Wall

On my second morning in China, I set out for the The Great Wall. After a two-hour ride from the center of Beijing, the bus pulled into a parking lot. It was pretty unremarkable at first; just concrete,a few dozen venders setting up their stalls, and a Subway restaurant.

Then I looked up. Through the fog, I could just make out the famous fortress.

Can you see it?

Can you see it?

That’s when it hit me. I was actually going to climb the Great Wall.

Despite others telling me I would miss out on the “authentic” experience , I bypassed the hour-long hike and took a scenic cable-car ride to the top of the wall. As I reached the platform,  two Chinese men leisurely standing around  began gesturing wildly. “Sit! Sit!”, they yelled. I looked around clueless and then saw the cable car quickly making its way towards me. I sat-or rather, fell-into the seat just in time. The safety harnessed snapped into place and in seconds, I was flying over lush, dense forestry and getting closer and closer to the wall. Now I could just make out the watchtowers and the sparse Chinese flags placed randomly around them.

The cable car ride

The cable car ride

Finally, I was there. My feet were planted firmly on the ancient Great Wall. Fortunately, there was still plenty of  it left to climb. Even after reaching the top, it was a strenuous walk up and down the jagged stone steps and many watchtowers. Even though it was overcast and there was a nice breeze, I still ended up drenched in sweat. Some areas were crumbling and others were well -preserved but all of it was steep.  So steep that women kicked off their heels and sandals and it wasn’t unusual to see people on all fours.

Stairs of the Great Wall

Stairs of the Great Wall

Most impressive were the venders, who trekked to the highest peaks with pounds of food and souvenirs strapped to their back.  I got the chance to speak to one of the venders , an older women who kept removing her glasses to wipe the sweat off her brow. She motioned to one side of the wall and , said “Mongolia” and pointing to the other side said , “China.”  Finally, she pointed to herself and proudly said “Me…Mongolia. Two hours.” She ran two fingers across her hand to mimic walking. This woman was telling me she walked two hours  just to get to the Great Wall. That’s not even counting the time  and effort it took her to climb up the wall. “Everyday?”, I asked her while handing her 10 yuan for some water and a photo she took of me. She handed me my camera and still smiling, just nodded. “Everyday.”

One of the many vendors

One of the many vendors

The trek wasn’t all bad of course. If you took a minute to pause and look around you , there were views like these:

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The Great Wall Black & White

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Great Wall

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Early Morning= Empty Wall

After three hours of  wandering, I raced a Toboggan back down. The six-minute ride offered the perfect opportunity to  reflect on the history I just experienced and marvel at the beauty of this place one last time. I closed my eyes; tried to imagine what it would have been like to build this wall. Or to be one of its watchful soldiers, running up and down the twisting stairs multiple times a day.

And yeah, I’ll admit it – I was singing the Mulan soundtrack in my head.