Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Favorite Travel Music

Music can set the tone for a trip. Sometimes if I am feeling sleepy or unmotivated while on the road and I put on the right electro soundtrack, I can pump myself up for a night of fun. Sometimes when I am in a peaceful place and a certain song comes on Genius on my iPod, I can sink to a dark place. There's plenty of music to I listen to at home but wouldn't listen to on the road. I have music for grading/working/studying (Ludovico Einaudi), music for rallying to go out on a Friday night after a long day of work (MIA), dinner party music for friends (Washed Out), lazy Sunday music (Howlin' Wolf), cooking music (Billie Holiday), etc.

And then there is road trip music. What would my basic backpacking soundtrack sound like? It really depends on how I am traveling! Driving my car from Tallahassee to New Orleans is going to garner a different vibe from curling up on a train in Eastern Europe or from whipping around the Andes Mountains on a  rickety bus. Also, it makes a huge difference if I am out in nature vs. in a city setting. Landscape and music can absolutely interact with each other!

My basic criteria for a great travel soundtrack: A twinge of nostalgia, a dash of adventure, a sprinkling of twang and mischief, and whistling and/or clapping garners some bonus points. Also, tambourines.

Here are some examples:

Roadtrip song for a long haul on the highway

Forest song for driving through the woods

Train music for dozing off on the high speed rail

New city music for pulling into an unfamiliar urban landscape

Other travel favorites include: Jenny Lewis, EMA, The Mountain Goats, Santigold, Lykke Li, First Aid Kit. I made a roadtrip rock playlist over at indieshuffle I want to share, so whether you are about to hit the road and need some good tunes or if you are just lounging around your apartment and want to play some whimsical folksy music, check it out:

Friday, November 21, 2014

No Catcalls in Hong Kong

Catcalling has been all over the internet and media lately, and it occurred to me that what used to be such a huge part of my day to day life in Ecuador doesn't exist in Hong Kong. Men here just don't do it. What's with that? When I first moved here, I thought, 'Did I get ugly? Why aren't men whistling at me or licking their lips in my directions as I walk to grocery store in my sweatpants anymore?!' I learned pretty quickly that it just isn't part of the culture in Hong Kong, or most other major Asian cities.

This shows me that men CAN restrain themselves. Men in Asia get it- catcalling makes women uncomfortable, makes them feel unsafe, and isn't fucking flattering at all. They are universally raised here to be respectful and polite towards the opposite sex, and I've never once had reason to fear a man in Hong Kong, a feeling I got used to in Ecuador. Yes, I said it. I feared men in Ecuador. When a group of men approached me in the street, I would cross the road to avoid the jeers. Drunk strangers would force themselves into my taxi at the end of the night to try to come home with me. Taxi drivers would hit on me aggressively, men would follow me in the streets, approach me and grab me, and it was never-ending.

Ecuador was a blur of unrelenting kissing noises, marriage proposals, lip smacking, and hollers. I'm not saying every girl reacts this way, but it really tore me down and made me feel disgusting. I felt like a piece of meat there. Catcalls are common in the US as well, I had my fair share in Florida.

And then I moved to Hong Kong. Something I realized this week is how unique my living situation is. I live at the dead end of an alley way of auto repair shops. This means that the small alley I have to walk down to get home is filled with packs of sweaty, older mechanics. I would never have moved into this apartment if it were in Ecuador! I wouldn't have felt safe going home, and I can say pretty confidently I would have been harassed every time I came home or left my apartment. It would have been intolerable.

My road of auto repair shops

The mechanics under my building

Instead, it's never occurred to me to feel unsafe on my street. The men on my street politely smile and move out of the way for me. They have held my front door open for me when I come home with groceries. Most of the time they don't even look at me. Young Hong Kong men are the same way. Just another reason to love this city. Why don't men in other places get it? Women DON'T LIKE BEING HOLLERED AT. We don't need to be flattered or reminded that we are desirable because of our looks. We don't care that we have your approval. We weren't looking for it in the first place.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

My Five Most Life Changing Trips

I have spent practically every break I’ve had since 2007 travelling. Winter breaks, spring breaks, Carnaval, long weekends, summers, etc. At this point, I’ve been on a LOT of trips, to say the least. In October I broke 30 countries with my week in Taiwan, which is pretty fucking awesome if I do say so myself! My next planned trips include Vietnam for winter break with some girlfriends, and a stop in Canada next summer for my friends’ wedding.

I thought it would be fun to take a moment and look back, not necessarily at the best trips I’ve done, or the most fun, but the trips that changed me in some way. All trips are an opportunity for growth but some experiences really shake you to your core and settle in your bones, changing you forever. As I was writing up a list of my most life-changing trips, I was trying to limit myself to three, but that didn't work out, so here they are. My five most life-changing trips EVER.

1. First Trip Abroad, Summer 2007
Partners in Crime: Marpessa and Chelsea

This was my first time leaving the United States. I can still remember the sense of excitement in my gut as the plane passed over international waters and eventually landed in Dusseldorf. So THIS is what it feels like to be in a foreign country! Everything was so exotic and magical. I learned a lot on this trip about friendship and socializing, which helped me enormously when I went to university that fall. This trip also confirmed that I needed to live abroad and explore as much of the globe as possible.

Three wild things tearing up Europe 
one beer and boy at a time

2. Backpacking the Balkans, Summer 2009
Partner in Crime: Chris

I grew so much as a traveler on this trip. With no set plans and few reservations booked in advance, this was the summer of going with the flow. I realized how important it was for me to have a partner who was travel compatible as well. The month we spent hopping around various Balkan countries and Greek islands was indescribably perfect. This was the most romantic trip I’ve ever done, and not just because I was young and in love, but everything seemed to fall perfectly into place: dance parties in Santorini hostels, getting invited into Serbian brandy bars after hours, and crashing with local Albanian families and Montenegrin grandmas.

River rafting in Bosnia

Somehow the best picture of us I have from that summer

3. Volunteering in Ecuador, Summer 2010
Partner in Crime: Marpessa and the UBECI crew

My spirit of service all started in the summer of 2010. I spent a month living with a local family and working with the child laborers in the markets of Quito. This was an eye opening experience into the world of poverty and NGOs, and drove me to spend the next summer in Guatemala volunteering for a similar program. I learned a lot about the value of sustainable and ethical non-profits, and was exposed to both the horrors and beauty of life in Latin America.

Marpessa at one of the market programs

Teaching English in Old Town, Quito

4. Birthright Trip to Israel, Summer 2012
Partners in Crime: 40 Jewish Strangers

This trip put me the farthest out of my comfort zone I’ve ever been, but also put me in touch with my heritage and guided me on my path to figuring out my adult identity. Our Birthright group consisted of 40 twenty-something American Jews, seven Israeli soldiers, two staff members (who are now engaged!) and a hot tempered but loveable tour guide. By the end of the trip, our roots ran deep, both with the land and each other. Before the trip I was terrified that I wouldn’t have anything in common with the people on my trip, but I learned quickly not to jump to conclusions and be more open-minded.

Riding camels in the Negev Desert

Our whole group breaking for a photo
during a hot-as-hell hike

5. Scuba Diving Trip in Thailand, October 2013
Partners in Crime: No One!

When I went to Koh Tao for my scuba certification, it was my first extended solo travel trip. I was scared shitless that I would be lonely or it would be dangerous, but in the end I had nothing to worry about. I made friends through my scuba trip, LOVED my little cabana with a beachfront patio, navigated traveling by myself, and felt pretty badass overall. The scuba diving was a ton of fun and I gained a lot of confidence during my week in Thailand.

I'm obviously comfortable in the water :)

My amazing scuba group

Other honorary mentions: My yoga retreat in the Philippines, backpacking Peru with my mom, the Holocaust research trip in Central Europe, an ayahuasca ceremony whilst hitchhiking down the Amazon River on cargo boats, the perfect spring break in Colombia, a summer in Antigua, traveling Ecuador with my brother, and so many more! For this post I limited myself to 5, but of course every trip abroad has a lasting impact in some way.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Voting From Abroad

With over 7 million US citizens living abroad, absentee ballots can really make a difference on election day. Although I haven't lived in Florida for 4 years, I still send in my absentee ballot every 2 years and proudly haven't missed an election since I was 18 years old. Obviously I don't live there anymore, but it still makes sense for me as a Floridian to remain as politically active as I can. I still care, after all.

Florida's procedure for getting an absentee ballot is pretty straight forward because they will email you a copy, and you can fax it right back to your particular Supervisor of Elections. The entire process of receiving a ballot, researching the issues/candidates, and sending it back took me about 30 minutes last week. I know every state is different and some might be more difficult, but it's worthwhile to figure out your state's procedures!

This video gives lots of good reasons to vote, even for non-expats

So, why bother? There are many reasons why expats should vote! Many Americans living abroad are only doing so temporarily, and will probably return someday, so you are voting on your own future. Voting affects your community, your friends and family, and possibly assets as well. Living outside of America doesn't make me less of an American, if anything it has boosted my pride as a representative of my country abroad. We expats are valuable to our countries, as we increase interconnectedness, provide a diversity of perspectives, and promote global thinking upon our return home. If anything, living abroad makes us MORE informed about what is going on in our native countries because we actively seek out news of what's happening back home. Expats are familiar with other ways of living so we may have a broader knowledge base to use in making informed decisions about certain policies and initiatives. Also, I still have an American passport, birth certificate, and social security number, all of which come with certain rights that I intend to exercise.

My Floridian absentee ballot

I'm a huge advocate of voting (duh) even if you are living in the United States. Say what you will, the government provides so many services and protections to its citizens, and the least you can do as an American citizen is participate in voting every two years.

So in a nutshell, that's why I vote even though I am an American living abroad!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Week in Taiwan

I got back yesterday from Taiwan and I wanted to try a little something new on this trip. Instead of taking pictures, I filmed my way around the country and made this little video.

Taiwan doesn't seem to be high on the Asian travel circuit, but it really does pack a whole lot into a tiny island nation. And the food! Ahhh the food. Beef noodle soup and street dumplings and mango shaved ice and minced pork rice and grilled corn and bubble tea and the list goes on. You'll notice that about half the footage in the video above is just us stuffing our faces.

Taiwan was an incredibly beautiful, big-hearted country, and the people were so warm and welcoming. We were invited to eat free street sausages with a family sharing dinner at a night market, taxi drivers wanted to know our life stories, a local temple invited us to march in a parade with them. I wouldn't say it was the most exciting place I've ever been, but traveling in Taiwan was easy, relaxing, and a true cultural experience.

I sometimes think about how I am able to have so many amazing travel experiences, those special moments where people invite you into their homes or take the time to share their lives with you. It doesn't hurt having a big smile on your face at all times, of course! Radiating positivity is a big part of that. I try to exude positive energy and people really do pick up on it (...I hope).

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Seedy Side of The Philippines

My mom's baby brother lives part time in Miami and part time in Angeles City. Not Los Angeles, but Angeles City, legendary prostitution capital of the Philippines, located a few hours north of Manila. Google 'Angeles City.' I dare you. His wife, my aunt, grew up in the Philippines and still has a lot of family there. Some highlights from my recent visit to Angeles City include:

Hanging out with my aunt's family, who were extremely warm and welcoming

 Spending time with my uncle

 Relaxing AND frolicking around the city

Angeles City is the home to Clark Air Base, Mount Pinatubo, and was also the last stop of the WWII Bataan death march that left around 5,000 Filipinos and 500 Americans dead. An interesting place to say the least. Being the history nerd I am, I was super excited for my uncle to take me on a tour of the remnants of Clark Air Base.

Old chopper left behind at Clark Air Base is now a playgound

Visiting Clark Veterans Memorial

Scenes at the Baatan Memorial for the death march

When I visited recently, I couldn't help but feel that I was back in Latin America. The crazy electric lines, dirt-covered children running around barefoot, music coming at you from all angles. The Philippines in general are just so much more raw than Hong Kong, which is sterile in comparison. 

The downtown district in Angeles City

Some fun events we stumbled upon around town-
Public aerobics classes, dog competition, MMA fights in the street

The local food is SO GOOD
Pork Adobo all day every day please

My aunt is a local so I got to stay on her family's property and hang out at their sari-sari, or convenience store. We lounged around their kubo, drank a shit ton of Red Horse, checked out the local mall, toured some WWII sites, and rode around on my uncle's scooter. My uncle actually hired indigenous people to build a bahay kubo, or nipa stilt hut, in the traditional way using all locally sourced building materials. It's quite beautiful, and he is also building an apartment complex next door with 6 single apartments that he plans on renting out.

The family dog at their sari-sari

My uncle at the construction site of his apartment building

The inside of their bahay kubo-
a little piece of paradise smack in the middle of the city

I thought very carefully about how to approach addressing Angeles City's unique situation. It has a reputation in Asia, even when compared to Bangkok, for being a grimy den of young prostitutes and sleazy old male customers. And it fulfilled every preconception I had. Prostitution is completely out in the open there, as girls walk down the street holding hands with their clients and pretending it's a normal date (the girlfriend experience at its finest). It's hard for me to wrap my head around it. These men are ok with perpetuating a system in which the only chance for a young girl to make something of herself economically is selling her body. The market for young attractive Filipinas is degrading and quite frankly, repugnant. 

It was really difficult for my uncle and I to find a bar without bikini clad teenagers where we could grab a beer and catch up. On my flight home, I heard a group of young British guys laughing about how their dicks were gonna fall off if they ever returned, and I couldn't help but wonder how many of them had girlfriends back in Hong Kong. The strangest part of it was how open the whole thing was. Everyone there was there for the same reason, customers and workers alike, and there were no hushed alleyways, no judgments, just acceptance of that way of life as a reality for that community.

Angeles City is a fascinating place by day, but the blatant exploitation of women is going to really make me think twice about visiting my family there in the future. The red light district seemed to center around Fields Avenue, so if you can avoid that one little strip, the rest of the city does actually have some cool cultural sites to check out. It's an extremely cheap direct flight from Hong Kong, so it made the perfect weekend getaway for me, especially since I had a place to stay with family there.

This is my uncle's 'Angry Bee' scooter

Trying not to scream in the sidecar of the 'Angry Bee'

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance

I have a new neighborhood in Hong Kong- Tai Hang! I wrote about it last year and hinted that I wanted to relocate, and over the summer, I did it. I found a cute, quirky, newly renovated apartment in an old Chinese walk-up building, which was really my dream. That's a different blog post for a different day, because right now I just want to share with you a cultural tradition from my new neighborhood that happened recently.

Entrance to my neighborhood all jazzed up in preparation

A few weeks ago was the Tai Hang Fire Dragon dance. Tai Hang is an old fishing village that goes back over 100 years, so it is a very tight knit community. Once a year the locals run up and down the streets 3 nights in a row with a 67 meter long dragon. The dragon runs at the crowd and then veers away at the last minute, it goes up in flames as they stab it with incense, and it dances to the beat of the massive drums following alongside.

The head of the dragon running right towards me in the crowd

Historically, the tradition began as a way to bring good fortune to the neighborhood. What was once a fishing village, and then a local automotive hub full of car shops, is now slowly being gentrified. I've already noticed a few car shops being replaced by oyster bars or cafes in the last two months since I moved in. By moving there, I know that I am contributing to this progression, but I hope to counterbalance that by supporting local businesses and promoting cultural traditions in the area!

Unfortunately a new rule states that if a real estate company can buy up 80% of the apartments in the building, the other 20% legally have to sell, which means that a lot of the cool older apartment blocks built back in the '60s are getting knocked down and replaced by sterile towers. I can't imagine the Fire Dragon dance happening in a neighborhood full of skyscrapers.

Only men from Tai Hang are allowed to participate-
unfortunately their numbers are dwindling

For such a big celebration with so many people crowding the streets to watch the Fire Dragon dance, I was surprised by how tame it was. In my mind I was picturing something like an Ecuadorian block party, a booze-infused, boisterous musical extravaganza. I think street parties in Asia lack the energy of their counterparts in Latin America. People sort of stood casually around watching the dragon, and once it had turned the corner, walked or jogged to keep up with it. There were no fistfights, boom boxes, dancing or cries of joy. Instead, it was just a bunch of very civilized people observing a piece of their heritage with much respect and nostalgia.

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