Category Archives: Vacation

forget it… it’s china[town]

the second big trip in 2013 (i also went to california, but it was strictly work so and nothing really worth reporting) was to china. every year the company i work for does three “town hall” meetings- it’s a chance for the president to answer employee questions and do a progress report for the year. there is always one in des moines, iowa, usually one in belgium (our second biggest office), and then one in another global office. this year china was selected.

i have to admit, i wasn’t super stoked to go to china to begin with. not because i have anything against the country. it’s just… it’s just that i’m asian. and that gets confusing. because i’m the fakest asian there is. i really know nothing about my heritage. i can’t speak the languages. oh, and i’m not chinese, i’m korean.

but my boss was going with me and she and i got along really well. slowly but surely she convinced me that this trip was going to be amazing. we planned out fun things we could do in our free time. and, she reminded me, i’m adventurous. it’s not somewhere i’ll probably ever go again. i should be soaking up this opportunity and enjoying every second of it.

i hate it when she’s right.

the best part about this trip was that it was a 16 hour flight. well, that wasn’t the best part… the best part was flying FIRST CLASS for a 16 hour flight. i’ve never ridden in first class in my life. and it was everything i dreamed it would be and more.

first classsorry for party rockin

i mean, the seats laid ALL THE WAY DOWN. they offered us champagne. and wine. and port (which, turns out, is disgusting). and an assortment of cheeses, appetizers, and snacks. the meals were almost restaurant worthy. the attendants smiled. it was a happy, beautiful place i hope to someday return to.

so, when you fly to china, you have to go into hong kong first. we got to hong kong in the afternoon, took a taxi to our hotel, and got ourselves situated. that night we went out for dinner and to explore the area. our hotel was near the water and we apparently hit a good time, because as we were walking we noticed a crowd of people starting to form along the dock. wondering what was going on, we stopped as well, and we witnessed hong kong’s “symphony of lights,” which essentially is the world’s largest laser light show. 44 different businesses/buildings along the victoria harbor participate in this ten minute show and it attracts around 4 million visitors each year.

hk laser show

the next day we did a little more exploring of hong kong. we decided the best way to see the sights in one day (not enough time) was to take a tour. we booked the tour through our hotel, which was recommended to us so we wouldn’t get ripped off and everything would be organized. our tour guide picked us up and we headed off with a bunch of other tourists with cameras strapped around their necks to victoria peak.

victoria peak is the highest mountain in hong kong. it’s referred to as ‘the peak’ by the natives and it’s a huge tourist attraction because it has a breathtaking view of hong kong and the surrounding islands.

hk-victorias peak

peace-1
oh, and i also accepted my roots and threw the peace sign as often as i could.

…a little bit of immaturity. while we were at the peak we saw this and couldn’t stop laughing. i’ve always wondered where that went.

cum recycle

after we left victoria peak, our tour bus brought us to the aberdeen fishing village, which houses around 6,000 people who live on the boats. we paid 60 Hong Kong dollar (approximately $8 USD) to ride a sampan and help support the fishing industry. aberdeen is one of the most important fishing ports in kong hong, but due to the increasing costs of the industry the community in aberdeen has started to decrease in size.

aberdeen:

sampak

aberdeen  sampak2

after the sampan ride we walked around the hong kong market for a bit, then made our way to the docks. you see, the reason we were only staying in hong kong for a day was because we were going to go to macau that night. i really knew nothing about macau except that it was supposed to be the “vegas of asia” and that one of the james bond movies had a scene there.

a little fun fact about me. i get motion sickness. like, crazy bad. the sampan wasn’t too terrible (surprisingly), but i felt absolutely miserable on that boat that took us from hong kong to macau. chalk it up to being tired or just lucky throughout the day, but i fought the headache and stomach until i made myself go to sleep for the rest of the ride.

so we arrive to macau; tired, sickly, and starving. we had chose a hotel that was not on the “strip,” but rather in a different part of the city. it was kind of remote, but well-kept and very pretty.

macau by night

the strangest part of macau is the mix of cultures- it has influences from china, but cantonese and portuguese influences are found throughout the country as well. we decided to do a bit of gambling (when in rome), but a lot of the games were different than the ones we are used to in the USA. even so, slot machines seem fairly universal, and stephanie ended up winning $200 on the slots!!! well… $200 HK dollar, which is about $28 US dollar… but still!

winner winner

the next day we decided to do a bit of exploring of macau on our own. i had a list of things we should check out, so we took a taxi to the casa gardens, which is just a cute little park in macau. attached to casa gardens is the old protestant cemetery. apparently back in the day macau was a strictly roman catholic country, and china refused to bury any outsiders, so the protestants had to bury their dead at night. they also risked being killed for this procedure if they were caught. in 1821 the land was bought and they got legal status to bury their dead. we also saw plenty of temples, the old city wall, and the ruins of st. paul. macau is a fairly small place so most of the sights are easily walkable if you don’t mind some hills. i loved walking around the city and seeing the different lifestyle- old buildings are a weakness of mine. i have to take photos of things that are run down or interesting, places that seem like they have a story.

casa gardens
casa garden is faaaabullouussssssmacau air macau

another highlight of macau was going to the macau tower, which is the 10th tallest tower in the world.

macau towerview from the macau tower

the reason i liked the macau tower so much, though, was not the impressive heights or the view (those were fine, but you go in one tower you pretty much go in them all), but the fact that you could BUNGEE JUMP OFF OF THE TOWER!

macau bungee macau bungee2

um, say what?! i wanted to bungee jump so badly (i’ve never done it before), and it seemed like a prime location to do so. i mean, how many people can say they’ve been to macau alone, let alone jump off of the 10th tallest tower in the world? unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, we’ll never know), stephanie was pretty against it. don’t get me wrong, she would’ve supported me going and actually encouraged me to, but she wasn’t going to go herself. and i decided if i was going to fall and break every bone in my body, doing it so far away from home before my work trip actually started might not be the best idea.

oh well. next time.

after we left the tower, macau started going down hill. not physically or probably for anyone else, but this was the point in time where stephanie and i had to go through the immigration line to leave macau and enter china. the three hour, hot, disgusting, immigration line where no one spoke english and stephanie was constantly gawked at for being a white female. i pretended for a bit to join in with everyone else, but even that lost it’s appeal after hour two. 😉 and then i lost my immigration card and thought i was going to be stuck in macau forever…. whew, i made it out, though. he basically swore at me and called me lucky and then stamped my passport. then we waited in another two hour line to actually get into china.

once we got to china we were already in the town we needed to be in (zhuhai), so that was a little bit of luck in our favor. we hitched a taxi to our hotel, got settled in, and started prepping for our work meetings. besides doing the town hall (which i am in charge of), we had to give a few presentations, meet with the teams, and tour the facilities.

besides the meetings and everything going according to plan, two things happened out of the ordinary that came to mind during our time in zhuhai.

1) the heads our specialty crop improvement team were also in china to check out their team and plants. they are two of my favorite people who work at kemin, and they invited me out to dinner with their team that night.

sci

2) i experienced my first squatter toilet. no, i didn’t use it (at that point), but it was a new and startling experience in itself.

toilet
no, no thank you.

from zhuhai we went to shanghai for a few days, where we had dinner with a different team (apparently we have 4 offices in china- zhuhai, shanghai, beijing, and ningbo) and attended FIC, the largest food ingredient trade show in the world. the last night michael took us out for hunan food. he started us out on level 1 and the goal was to gradually go up as we got acquainted with the flavor… we ended up staying on level 1 the entire night, but we also drank a lot of strange chinese budweiser beers. apparently it’s americans contribution to the world of beer.

after our time in shanghai, stephanie and i took a train to beijing, along with another one of our coworkers, alex. alex is head of marketing for our health division, and he is a pretty funny character. he was in good humor the entire train ride, doing a bit of work, a bit of army stuff (very dedicated soldier), and conversing with stephanie and me. well, they tried to converse with me. but to be honest, i am a terrible transportation friend. i like to fall alseep, listen to music, or watch television shows when i’m in route. i’ll make some small talk, but honestly, it’s one of the few times i actually like to be left alone. after the talking wore me out, i watched a few episodes of the walking dead and then fell asleep for most of the 4.5 hour train ride.

when we got to beijing it was already pretty late at night. we hadn’t had any dinner yet so we had a drink and some food, and then we got ready for bed. even though it was already 2am, we probably would’ve stayed out later, but we had to meet our driver in the lobby at 7:30am and that didn’t call for much sleep. xuemei was kind enough to arrange this for us, however, and we wanted to see the great wall of china which was a bit out of the city.

and the great wall was just that- great. it was phenomenal, in fact. we opted to walk the wall instead of paying for a ride up, and i’m really glad we did. the sights along the way were great, and it was rewarding to get to the top and look over it all. makes a person feel rather small!

i have tons of photos of this 13,171 mile wall, but i will spare you photos of my “brilliant” photography and just narrow it down to a few. 

great wall

great wall2 on the wallin this photo you get to see the beauty of one of the seven wonders of the world.
…and then behind me, you also get to see the great wall of china.

one of the coolest parts of the trip to the wall (once you got over how old, how big, how well constructed the wall itself is), was the fact that you could toboggan to the bottom of the mountain for only 60 RMB. since i already regretted not bungee jumping, i decided there was no way i was going to pass up this less-potentially-bone-breaking opportunity. and it was a lot of fun!

the rest of the day we did typical touristic things in beijing. alex was leaving early that next morning, so we mostly did things that he wanted to see. those things included going to the forbidden city, which was right next to tiananmen square. the forbidden city was where the emperor lived during the ming dynasty. for around 500 years it was home to their households and was also the ceremonial and political center of the chinese government. the architecture was amazing. the buildings were beautiful. but no matter where i go in the world, the best part of being in old places is…

…pretending to be a gargoyle.

im a gargoyle

what can i say? even with thousands of tourists milling around, some habits die hard. alex also pretended to pee in the corner and that also made for a funny photo. he pretended, though. i swear it.

later that day the taxi driver took us to mcdonald’s, which i don’t even go to in the usa. i’m just sharing this because it made me really annoyed, although it shouldn’t have. he was a great driver and very attentive, but there was enough of a language gap that he didn’t understand me when i said i’d rather eat my own hand off.

i didn’t. i ordered some mcdonald’s, which was very cheap and tasted very much like the chicken sandwich i was hoping to get. i was also very impressed with the waiter’s english. we got to sit down and relax, and it was a really enjoyable time. (but i haven’t had mcdonald’s in the usa since either.) that night we made up for it, though, by going out for peking duck, ordering some fresh octopus, and then walking around houhai, which is a pretty trendy bar area near the water.

the last day xuemei took us out, along with her adorable daughter lele, to see some more sights in beijing. we went to the olympic park (where the… olympics… were held), and she handed us a few of those fancy masks the asians wear because of the smog. i put mine on and her daughter lele just started giggling and pointing at me. i wonder why?

invisible woman

i think because of this silliness, lele felt drawn to me (probably became i’m immature and act like a child), but it was great because she hung out with me all day. we goofed around at olympic park, she wore my sunglasses at lunch, and we pretended to be kittens while we wandered around the temple of heaven, which is a complex of religious buildings that are visited during worship. what was really cool about the temple was that all the steps were in sections of nine, because nine represented a heavenly number. everything was blue, green, and yellow; the colors were a symbolic representation of heaven, the mortal world, and earth.

xuemei also took us to the pearl market, where we bought pearl necklaces in the same place as hillary clinton and barbara bush. i had a few fake pearl necklaces, but i gave the helpers my price range and they brought me back a few strings of pearls to choose from. i picked one out and they sat down and started putting together my necklace, which was amazing to watch, and a necklace that i wear almost every day to work now! then we parted ways for the day and stephanie and i made our way on to the last leg of our journey, ningbo.

Xuemei Lele

there isn’t too much to report on ningbo, to be honest. it’s not a very busy area of china. i had edited the town hall meeting so we showed it to the employees (which chinese subtitles as many could not speak english) and then toured the factory and gave a few presentations and answered questions to help people practice their english.

that night a few members of the ningbo team took us out for dinner. that was potentially the highlight of the whole trip- the ningbo team was so nice and the food (traditional chinese foods like lotus root, various fish, etc) was good and shared family style. since there was no more work to do, we finally felt like we could relax a bit! as we were leaving we got a group photo, which is pretty common. but then the waitresses asked if they could have a photo with stephanie… which was maybe the funniest thing that happened during the whole trip. one waitress even shoved another out of the photo because she wanted one by herself with the white lady.

waitresses

the strangest part of being in china, at least for me, was that the chinese assumed i was also chinese and spoke to me in mandarin. i got really good at my ‘ni hao’ (hello) and ‘xie xie’ (thank you), but they were always startled that i didn’t understand the language. i guess it kind of makes sense, because i look the part, but like i stated before… i’m korean. even if i knew korean, i would have no idea what they would be saying. in talking with a few people about it, a lot of the chinese thought i was also chinese. apparently i look either like a northern chinese or a korean woman, which i found incredibly interesting. since i was adopted at such a young age and out of south korea, i always assumed i was a full korean. but who knows? i could potentially be half chinese. i don’t think i am, just some food for thought. i am tall for a korean. 🙂

anyway, stephanie was right. the trip was a once in a lifetime experience and i’m glad we got to go. xie xie for reading.

waffles and chocolate and beer, oh my!

oh man. besides saying that i wouldn’t mind living there for the rest of my life, what is there to say about belgium? it’s beautiful. it’s clean. it’s biker friendly. its… its… it’s 1/5 the size of iowa and yet so rich with culture and history.

evan and i took off for belgium on friday, april 27. i was being sent there to help direct and edit our company’s first town hall meeting of the year, and evan was going because he’s always dreamed of going to belgium. since the first part of may was a holiday for europe, we decided it would be a convenient time to go and have a mini-vacation before my actual work week started.

we had to take separate flights because we booked at different times, but we arrived in the brussels airport roughly about an hour apart. while i was waiting i caught up with our hostess with the mostess, adrianna, a colleague who used to work in the united states but was transferred to our europe office a year and some ago.

once we got our bearings (and our luggage), adriana took us back to her apartment in antwerp where we promptly took a nap. i know they say you’re never supposed to nap when you get somewhere because you won’t adjust to the time zone, but eff that. i’m always tired and when i’m tired, i will take a nap. don’t even try to stop me.

that night, after waking up bright eyed and bushy tailed from our slumber, evan and i went exploring around antwerp- he had a meeting he wanted to attend and i had a friend i wanted to see. while evan was at his meeting i went to the something-plaats (it’s been awhile, the name escapes me) — DAGERAADPLAATS! (i remembered 15 minutes later and came back to update, but had to leave what i had before to show how proud i was that it came back to me) …

…ahem. i went to the dageraadplaats and had dinner with jeroen, a sarcastic former-coworker who loves antwerp with his whole heart and loves to bad mouth/trash talk my love for des moines, iowa even more. we shot the shit and drank beer for a good hour before evan showed back up, and then we went to a different restaurant (the one we were at was closing) so ev could have a meal. he ordered a steak tartare, which is basically raw meat mixed with some onions, capers, and some seasonings. what a daring man. i mean, i wouldn’t order it, but i did try it and it really wasn’t too bad. it kind of tasted like meat loaf.

after we left jeroen, which was around 11:30 pm, we realized the buses had already stopped for the night. the city bike rental places also had shut down– all of which probably would’ve been a problem for most people. i mean, sure it was quite the distance back to adriana’s apartment. and sure, we could’ve gotten some internet or phone access to get ahold of her to come pick us up. but like any good ol’ iowa farm couple… we walked. and we got lost. and we read some maps. and we got caught in the rain. and evan got to babysit a slightly tipsy amanda. and we walked some more.

we finally arrived back at adriana’s apartment at around 2:00 in the morning. we were tired and wet from the rain, but still extremely happy. antwerp was such a great city to walk around and get familiar with. we loved the idea of the “red lane” in the middle of the sidewalk which was reserved strictly for bikers and motorbikes. we loved how the city felt safe and everyone was friendly. we got home and immediately crashed into bed. the plan was to meet my co-worker drew and his wife chelsea in bruges the next day and figured it’d be good to at least get a little bit of sleep.

let me just stop to say, i do not have an international plan on my phone. i think it costs a ridiculous amount of money for the purpose it serves, and as long as i am somewhere with wireless t i can contact other iphones and use the internet. it may not have served me so well in italy (uggggh that day), but i think it served me fine in belgium. i will admit, however, it would’ve been easier if drew and i had phones to contact each other, because getting the hook up for bruges was a mess. we finally got connected and agreed to meet at the train station a little before noon. evan and i had adriana’s car and drew and chelsea were taking a short train from brussels (where they were staying).

by the time we had met up with d&c, we were all starving. i was on the verge of getting hangry (a mixture of hungry and angry) so we walked around the small city of bruges and scoped out what restaurants struck our fancy. it was starting to rain, so chelsea picked a nice little place and we ducked in for some heat and for some food.

the place was a bit expensive- not only pricewise, but because of the exchange rate from the euro to the dollar. but we weren’t going to let that hinder our good time- we got ourselves a feast. drew and i sampled a few different types of belgian beers and he and evan also tried mussels (i’ve had those before, highly enjoyable). our menu was set- we got to pick from an appetizer menu, then a main course, and a small dessert. it was all really good, and from the restaurant we had a nice view of the lake and watched people do boat tours.

side note: have you ever seen the movie “in bruges?” if you haven’t, first off, you need to. it’s absolutely hilarious; subtle humor mixed with over the top, ridiculous situations, beautiful scenery….

and it has the best quotes. “If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me… but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”

so many things to see and do in bruges. we explored some abandoned streets, had our first belgian waffles, took a boat tour, saw a carnival area, and just soaked in the belgian life. okay, sure, bruges is probably the most touristy part of belgium, but i can’t really blame people for that. i mean… it’s like a fairytale town.


“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s f*cking thing?” 

the next day we all agreed to meet in brussels for the day. again, this is where having a phone would’ve come in handy. it took longer than evan and i anticipated to get from the bus to the train station, and by the time we got to the train station, we found our train was delayed. so while we were already a half an hour late to brussels, we ended up being closer to 50 minutes later than the time we told drew and chelsea we would meet them.


evan sleeping on the train

determined to not let it ruin our day (as we assumed drew and chelsea had given up on us), we did some touristy things and explored brussels by ourselves. as fate would have it, i found a small coffee shop with internet access and drew happened to be on skype at the hotel at the same time. they met back up with us and we continued on our merry way, onto one of the merriest places of all: a place with beer. lots and lots of beer.

we also got a little reckless, in our own harmless way. we went to a casino and blew a bit of money and smoked a few cigarellos we picked up in a shop (evan had bought some cigars for my dad and the cigarellos were nice and cheap.) you know… when in rome. we also had our fill of belgian waffles, chocolates, and well, beer, of course.

the next day was probably the most low key day of our vacation. adriana brought us out to this little town called balen (which jeroen says translates to “it sucks” and advised us not to go) because koen had convinced evan that he should go orienteering while in belgium. since evan had never done that type of race before, the boys did a little bit of practice orienteering for the afternoon.  i sat on a terrace, drank, and watched gliders go up.

afterwards we had dinner with koen and his wife hendrika, and then they took us to the b&b where we were staying at, an adorable little place located on a sheep farm.

the rest of the trip was rather boring overall, so i will spare you all the details. basically i got to go to work and evan got to rent a bike and ride around belgium. sounds like he got the better end of the deal.

these were the highlights of the rest of the trip:

  • being able to network and meet new coworkers– i love the people/company i work for. it’s always good to get to know them better.
  • helping (successfully) organize the first town hall meeting of the year.
  • koen gave me a ride to work every day. (i love koen.)
  • i ate horse. don’t judge me.
  • recapping with evan at night about what we each did during the day.
  • going out to dinner with a fun group at the Kathedral restaurant.
  • airport hang out time with penny (i love penny… but in a different more work appropriate way)
  • actually getting to sit next to ev on the plane ride home

^Ja, ik zal.

call me, may(be)?

ooh work. you take away all my free time and yet i love you so.

i haven’t been able to “blog” very much lately, but my month of may was a good one. the weather in iowa is absolutely beautiful and a lot of the month was spent hanging out with good family and friends. here are some good things.

  • i spent the first few days of the month of may in belgium with the most handsome man i know. oh, and evan was there with me as well. 😉
  • the avengers came out. let’s see… iron man, thor, and hulk… yum.
  • ^ and then i saw it again the next day.
  • went to the farmer’s market and got my first papusa of the year. also yum.
  • a group of us went out to north carolina for our good friend erin and sam’s wedding. it was southern, beautiful, and besides being alcohol-free, absolutely perfect. 😉

  • sand volleyball began. and we have continued our streak from last year….our losing streak, that is.
  • it was my daddio’s birthday.

april showers

and a sneak attack by the month of april!

this year is FLYING by. just when i thought i had my head and hands wrapped around this so-called life, i look up and realize that april has already passed me by. no joke, i’ve felt so busy in the past month that i’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone blog.

but april, though busier than fuck (a friend of mine says iowans say “as fuck” or “than fuck” more than any people he’s met so i am trying to live up to the hype), has treated me rather kindly. here are a few highlights for the month.

  • it was around 90 degrees the first day of april. it was so warm that we had a pool party. that is unheard of in iowa.
  • krista and i took a mini-road trip to madison wisconsin to see Fun. and it was. (fun. it was fun.)
  • celebrated easter with evan’s family. it is great because the kids are all getting to an age where they recognize me every time they see me. last time we were back brookelynne called me “aunt amanda.” and i think i’m okay with it.
  • game night. it had been so long since i had a game night. we were over having a grill out at katie and tony’s. it started raining, we went inside to play fireball island and it from the pit. best games i had never played.

    (we have to go back, kate! WE HAVE TO GO BACK!)
  • april marks the beginning of the horse racing season at prairie meadows. i only went once, but i came home $20 dollars richer.
  • i’ve kind of gotten into running. i know, it surprised me too.
  • vacation. i went to belgium for work and evan got time off to come with. it was an awesome time, not only being in belgium, but just being with each other. evan thinks we could live in belgium. i think i agree.
  • on vacation i also got to see a person i used to work with who i hadn’t seen in around two years. it was good to catch up and even better to make new memories. also got to see some other employees/friends and make some new ones as well.
  • secretary of agriculture, tom vilsack, toured kemin and also did a press conference at our facility, encouraging young farmers to stay in the industry. i hung out with his six body guards.
  • my parents celebrated their 37 year anniversary. that is nuts to me. sure, they’ve had their ups and downs, just like any couple. but in the end they decided to that they were to be together for the rest of their lives. and there’s something incredibly normal yet romantic about that.

callin’ baton rouge… i mean… nashville.

did i ever tell you about that time i went to nashville?

yeehaw. 🙂

back in the winter of 2010 a friend of mine mailed me two tickets to a garth brooks concert  because he was unable to attend.

now, that may not mean anything to you (because you’re crazy), but here’s the thing. garth brooks is a country legend. he doesn’t go on tour anymore, and when he did his tickets sold for hundreds upon hundreds of dollars for hundreds and hundreds of sold out shows. nowdays he sometimes performs out in las vegas, but it is always an acoustic show, not the flaired and full-banded awesomeness.

so… i had to go. and krista, my most spontaneous, country-loving, ass-kickin’ friend had to come with. the show was in nashville, tennessee. we were located in des moines, iowa. google maps told us it’d be 11.5 hours… fine. it’ll probably be closer to 10. we could make it there in a day.

we left des moines on saturday morning around 5am. the plan was we would alternate driving and sleeping (if needed), and then get ready to get our shitkickers and cowboy hats out for when we arrived in nashville.


(the happiest i’ll ever look at 5am)
(for the record- in honor of the trip to nashville,  i ran these photos through the instagram “nashville” filter. you’re welcome.) 

we finally got to nashville in the late afternoon. we got checked into our hotel, played around with our sleep number mattresses (i don’t think they worked, what a load), and then listened to some garth brooks while we got ready to check out the scene.

cheap barbecue dinners and live music pouring out of every bar… nashville is booming at night. krista and i weaved in and out bars full of country singers trying to make it until we finally landed at the honeyhole of downtown nashville. a karaoke bar.

karaoke? one of my favorite things ever. karaoke + cowboys + $2 tallboys of busch light? heaven.

the night was great. we posed with a bunch of elvis statues (a lot of them around the city), got hit on by a gay cowboy who claims he is straight (denial), and got a cd from “rising star” that we never listened to. we never got up and sang, but we sat back, drank our beers, and soaked in the atmosphere.


(this man is not famous. but he gave us his cd and asked to take a photo with us.  i wish i was lying.)

the next day we went out to do some more sight seeing and went to the country music hall of fame. we dressed the part (cowboy boots, western tops, cowboy hats) and strolled around the different floors. it was an incredible place, i don’t think you even need to like country music to appreciate all that was there. tributes to the late and great, interactive kiosks, artifacts, and photos everywhere you turned. and a bear.

raawwwr.

that night, before the concert, we went to the wildhorse saloon, which was supposed to be pretty famous and well-known. there was a musician playing (go figure) and we sat and drank and ate at the bar because there wasn’t any open seating.

i really liked the restaurant, it was cheesy in all the right ways. fake horses doing human things, stereotypical country interior… big ass margaritas. yeah, i think those were my favorite thing. krista and i ate, we drank (a lot… but we walked, so it’s okay), we played some shuffleboard. and i won. and i only say that because when you play shuffleboard against krista, you rarely ever win.

and then we went to see garth brooks.

and he didn’t disappoint. fog machines, flashing lights… he came up from under the stage, cowboy hat tipped over his eyes, singing “rodeo.”  he sang all of his hits, he took crowd requests, he told stories. trisha yearwood (his wife) also performed and sang the song that was my favorite country song growing up “she’s in love with the boy.” there was this annoyingly hilarious couple in front of us that made out and danced the whole time. it was wonderful (to laugh at) and repulsive at the same time.


(ugh, that couple. for real.)

i’ve been to a lot of concerts in my day. and this one was easily in the top 10, probably top 5.

if you haven’t heard garth brooks, i highly suggest you check him out. country music isn’t for everyone, but even many non-country loving friends agree that he’s pretty good musically. these are my top 10 favorite songs by him– although if you ask someone else they might have a different list entirely.

1) standing outside the fire
2) she’s every woman
3) every now and then
4) callin’ baton rouge
5) the dance
6) i’ve got friends in low places
7)  much too young (to feel this damn old)
8)  rodeo
9) to make you feel my love
10) wrapped up in you

mo money… mo problems

i don’t make a lot of money.

…but i don’t make a little amount of money either.

the weird thing about me, and i’ll be the first to admit it, is that i like paying bills. i find it soothing- like the money i’ve collected has a purpose. i pay the mortgage, student loans, car payment… and then i assess.

my problem comes after the assessment. i simply do not know what to do with my extra cash. i want to spend it. and usually on stupid things.

now, before we dive into this, do not judge too harshly. i’m not just frivolously throwing around my money (so back off, mooommm). i have a 401k set up through my work and i also contribute 6% of my earnings to it. i donate money every month to my sponsor child in Sri Lanka (his name is Nandakumar and he draws me awesome photos), and i am in the process of setting up a roth ira. i pay more than required on all my loans per month, and my credit score is better than average.

some people i know, my parents included, do not own credit cards because they don’t want any loans. i think that’s completely understandable and very smart. live within your means, don’t make extravagant purchases you can’t afford. work to be come debt free.

but the one thing i simply cannot comprehend, however, is not living now because you are afraid you do not have the cash. people want to save up for retirement, and i get that. they work to pay off student loans, house loans, work to becoming debt free. they want the security, they want to know that they will have the money to do fun things when they get older.

but what about fun things now? i would rather go and test limits, to experience life while i’m in the prime of it. before i have children or any major responsibility that is holding me back from doing exactly what i want, when i want to do it. not that those responsibilities are bad. but they are life changing.

and i am a person who craves instant gratification.

and these are the things i am wanting most right now:

1) a new tattoo. it’s been years since i got a tattoo. i have an appointment scheduled for february 9th- i plan on getting my side tattoo expanded up past my ribs. and then screaming and crying a lot at the pain.

2) little martin guitar. i’ve recently started taking guitar lessons, but i’m not really improving. (granted…i’m not really practicing either, but i digress.) i have really small hands, making it difficult and frustrating to play certain chords. originally i didn’t want to get a smaller guitar because i thought they might look silly. but i’m not delusional. i’m not going to be a famous musician someday. i want to play for my own enjoyment. so i will buy a guitar that i can maneuver. and then i will play.

3) vacation. i am going to belgium for work in april. while that is not the most exciting news ever (though it’s close), what makes it even better is that evan is coming with me. we are taking a few extra days ahead of time to see the country- evan says that he thinks belgium is his “dreamland.” he imagines a lot of biking and beautiful country scenery. i imagine beer and chocolate. i think it’ll be a win-win situation.

what’s so south about south dakota?

i recently took a quiz online to see how many of the “100 places in the world you have to see” i had visited. i knew it would be rather low, but it was still rather shocking to get the results.

23. 23/100. it’s disappointing, really. so low for someone who claims she likes to travel, to go on adventures. for someone who has no children/responsibility to really tie her to a place… someone with a fancy car with low mileage, and friends with the same urge to get moving.

since obviously it costs money to travel (and also costs vacation days at work), i have decided that it would be best to knock off some more of the united states sites before trying to go abroad.

so…

here we come south dakota!

#59 on the list: Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota, USA.

my parents used to go to south dakota all the time because they used to ride motorcycles. if you are a motorcycle enthusiast, you obviously know why and there’s really no need for an explanation. for the rest of us, let me explain: every year in south dakota there is the sturgis rally in the black hills. motorcyclists drive in from all over the usa to be a part of the shenanigans; everywhere you look you see leather jackets, chaps, and harley davidson’s.

to give a bit of perspective, the city of sturgis has around 6,500 people living there, but during the time of the rally the traffic gets up to at least 400,000. (and i will guess at least 100,000 of them have hulk hogan mustaches.)

i usually stayed with my grandparents when my mom and dad left, until i got old enough to persuade them to leave me home alone. now i will embark on my own journey to the more southern dakota.

according to google maps, it’s about 9.5 hours to get to keystone from mason city. so, realistically, that means it will be closer to 8-8.5 hours.

now, let’s put this plan into actual practice. is anyone interested in going/meeting up? (i’m looking at you, krista.) i’m game for stopping at other places along the way and making it a 4-5 day weekend (leave thurs night, come back monday morning). the name of the game is “cheap,” but the more people that go i’m sure the better deals i can find.

and if anyone from the area that has any suggestions of things to check out along our way to mount rushmore, please don’t hesitate to let me know. any small dives (i love me some dive bars), some quirky small towns? any places to avoid? good hotels? nice couches?