Tag Archives: adventure

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. ūüėČ 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. ūüôā

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.

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you say dubai, and i say hello

i thought i would try to play catch up with 2013 on this blog. not only because, well, it’s a travel blog and i haven’t been doing a good job updating my travels, but because i want to look back and remember things- the places i go, the people i meet, and the adventures i had. it’s fun to look at the photos, but there’s something cathartic about writing it all down.

so first up in 2013 was going to dubai. i went to dubai for work, for a sales and marketing meeting dubbed “Journey to the Vision.” my company’s vision is “to touch half of the people of the world every day with our products and services.” we are about half way to our goal, and we fully expect to get to the goal by 2017. so every four years from 2009 on we have had this meeting to build morale, to be encouraging… to get to go to cool places like paris and dubai.

and really, the place was super cool. we stayed at the world’s tallest hotel only hotel in the world. it’s called the jw marriott marquis, if anyone wants to check it out. it had tons of different restaurants and entertainment. oh, AND it had a bar called “the vault” on the top floor, which had bank vault type doors as the entrance. there was also a cigar lounge, so you could also smoke up there. not that i did or anything. ūüėČ

smoking

i had to travel to dubai early to help set up for this 3 day meeting. normally i would have loved this opportunity, but for some terrible reason i was sick beyond belief at this point in the year. that, piled on top of a 14 hour plane ride, made for a pretty grouchy amanda. but i got there, we hammered out some last minute details, worked with the musical (yeah… we brought actors out to put on a musical), did run-through’s for lighting and sound, and i loaded up on cold medication. basically anything that would help me swallow, breathe, or sleep.

after a few days, other people started arriving to dubai and heading to registration. despite feeling so miserable, i was pretty excited to see people. besides the presidents of the different business units and the few of us on the plenary teams, we really hadn’t had much time to converse or even leave the hotel. so when the taxis started to pull up and a few of my favorite co-workers were spotted, my mood was lifted dramatically. it lifted even more so when most of the the corporate marketing group (aka: my team) went up for a drink in the vault. i got a grapefruit infused vodka for 40 dirham, which is a little under $11 US dollar. alcohol = expensive in dubai.

vault

vodka

marketing in the vault

the next few days were honestly a bit of a whirlwind. i had been in charge of producing the opening “skit” (it was a WWF parody), which went off smoothly. the opening reception was in full swing. when the reception was done, everyone meandered up to our private (poolside) bar and continued what we do best. drinking. networking. (ha, see what i did there? see?)

i won’t bore you with the details of the whole meeting, but i will say that the last night was something extremely special to experience. our closing ceremony was in the middle of the desert in a man-made stadium area. there were different stations for food, drinks, and there were people there to make it a more “authentic” dubai experience. i was able to hold a falcon, ride a camel, and get a henna tattoo. there were also arabic hand writing stations, palm readers, and a nice showing of fireworks. i thought six hours in the desert was going to be a ridiculously long time (again, had to go early to help set up). but the time flew by and i still hadn’t gotten to all the stations by the time the night was over.

camel

falcon

fireworks

unfortunately, all the energy put into the meeting made me feel even worse once it was all over. after the meeting, there was a tour for the people who had helped and didn’t get to go do any activities. it was fun, don’t get me wrong. we got to go shopping in the spices and textile souks, do a bit of sight seeing, a little bargaining… but by the end of the day i was napping in the van while the rest of the group was continuing. the souks were beautiful, though. so many rich textures and colors and even smells. i walked away with four different pashmina scarves and a few other knick knacks.

spice souks

the next day a smaller group of us went sandboarding and dune-bashing– the dune-bashing was enough to test even the strongest of heads and stomachs– and went inside the Burj Kahlifa, the tallest building in the world. i also got to see my friend tim kucera who is spending the year in afghanistan. he just happened to be in dubai at the same time getting his visa renewed, which was a great twist of fate as he got to join us for a few activities.

boarding

goofy feet

burj

the worst part of the trip, however, was that i had even scheduled to stay a few extra days with my friend rohit, who lives in dubai. i obviously stayed, but i was so sick at this point that i was unable to attend a VIP party at atlantis (underwater club in a fancy hotel) with a group of his friends and instead went to bed about 9pm and woke up at around noon the next day. but rohit really saved the day by getting me some more medicine (mine had ran out), and my co-worker brad and i still got to see some cool additional sights. i bought a really unique soapstone chess set in “Africa” in Dubailand, a theme-park looking area that has markets with food and merchandise from all different areas of the world. it was like a magnified and less cheesy version of disney world’s “it’s a small world” ride.

rohit and friends

dubailand

all in all, it was a great time and adventure, though! i don’t know if i will ever make my way back to dubai, so i can honestly say it was a once in a lifetime experience.

here are some odds and ends or highlights of dubai or my time there:

  • because it is a muslim country, alcohol is super expensive. it is so expensive, in fact, that we had to have drink tickets at this event to prevent people from going over our allotted budget.
  • if you want to get any of this said alcohol, you must be in a hotel or a restaurant located inside a hotel. brad and i ate at applebees *cough shut up don’t judge us we were in a bad mood cough* and almost ordered some tasty adult beverages before we realized they weren’t very adult at all.
  • tina is an awards master. we had an award’s ceremony on monday night of the meeting, and she won first place for every entry she submitted. as i do most of her graphics work, i felt a nice sense of pride for my teammate. T&A (Tina and Amanda, you perverts) Harmonious Way.
    TA
  • dubai is a strange culture of the very rich and the poor. when the recession hit, it hit dubai hard. rich business men dropped their cars off at the airport and just left, never to return because they knew they had gone broke. you will see extravagant and beautiful buildings next to worn down, half-built structures with construction tape wrapped around it.
  • bring sunglasses. there are dust storms.
  • be conscious of the culture- in muslim countries it isn’t appropriate for women to be scantily clad. they aren’t making you wear a burka- but they don’t want you wearing short skirts and strapless tops either (although we did see our fair share of those).
  • 14-15 hour plane rides suck. i did a non-stop in order to get there faster, but maybe would suggest taking flights in segments if you get the chance. your body might thank you.

callin’ baton rouge… i mean… nashville.

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

yeehaw. ūüôā

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

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?

tanzania

the year after my england trip i had my next overseas adventure. in the summer of 2007, jamie (of marriage in ireland fame) and i packed up our gear to travel to tanzania and do a documentary.

the whole set up took a bit of planning. in my junior year of college i had decided that i wanted to do something with my “skills” to give back or do something that was bigger than myself. i researched many non-profit organizations and talked with a few to decide what it was i fully wanted to try and do. after finalizing my thoughts with a group based out of california called global partners for development, the opportunity to travel to tanzania with them came up.

global partners focuses on a few areas of development-¬† water projects (water sanitation and even being able to have a water resource near a village is a huge problem in tanzania), primary school funding (attracting good teachers, making sure there is funding for the school itself, along with supplies), scholarships for¬†secondary schooling for girls (a lot of times a family will only have enough money to have one child continue their education and the male child will get chosen every time), animal projects (teaching a village how to raise an animal¬†and¬†have them procreate/used in the village¬†instead of killing it right away for food), and women’s social/ecomical business (giving small start up loans to women [usually whose husbands have died of HIV or AIDS] and¬†teaching them business skills, a trade, etc.)

i thought these projects were fantastic.¬†global partners¬†didn’t have a christian or religious focus (not that having one is a bad thing, but i wanted a place whose focus was¬†the people), but they were doing so many things that spoke to the heart of what i believe. the major set back was they, being a non-profit who gave away a good amount of their earnings, did not have camera equipment nor the funding to send me with them for this trip.

i started talking with my college to see if there was any type of funding for this type of project. fortunately, there was a grant that i qualified for which gave me a bit of money. my hometown church gave me some more. and from that point, people came from out of the wood work to donate money to help me get to tanzania. i was overwhelmed with the positive response i was given and determined to make the best documentary in my capabilities (which, given that it was my first and only documentary to this day, was a feat in itself).

now where does jamie fit into all of this? jamie, who went to school for broadcast journalism in nebraska, was visiting me at college when i casually mentioned my plan that was in the works. her passion and response was immediate: i am coming with you. i told her about the money, the equipment, and the time/dedication needed. she did her part (and then some) and we were well on our way.

there was a larger group also heading to tanzania with us (we received biographies and information about everyone/the places we were going beforehand), but jamie and i were flying out of des moines and not california (like the rest of the group), so for a majority of the trip out there we were on our own. we finally met up with our group in tanzania, after our 20 hour plane ride.

tanzania is amazing. it’s beautiful. it’s rustic. it’s peaceful, it’s life-affirming, and a part of my heart has been left there. the children that we met at the schools were wonderful. they were playful; we gave them coloring books and stickers. most people spoke english rather well and were so appreciative of the work we were doing and for the money that the donators had brought. we were able to sit in at an actual tribe’s meeting (all in swahili so we were filled in later about what it was about) where the masaii chief leader was scolding the group for not caring about women’s education. (in most tribes girls will be married off at 12 or 13 and they will not continue schooling but rather be at the home).

a lot of what we saw in tanzania was heart breaking as well. not because of the poverty so much, but because they were so thankful for what they had. for opportunities to speak with us. we were sang to many times, presented with gifts, and many hugs and handshakes were given. jamie and i tried our hardest to document everything, take copious amounts of notes, and gather information, but it was so hard to not just get swept up in the culture instead. we stayed in beautiful areas, ate delicious food, and bonded with our group of people. it was an experience i will never forget, for multiple reasons.

the last few days we were there our bus drivers (pascal and rama) took us out to a few safari places. pascal really took a liking to jamie and me, he always made sure we rode in his vehicle with him and called us simba 1 and simba 2 (lions).

the animals of tanzania are wild- and i mean that in the double sense. wild as in… radical,¬†amazing, and unbelieveable and also wild in the- oh, what the hell, there is an elephant about 10 feet away from me! sort of sense. we saw four of the big five while were there. a couple of lions, some cape buffalo, plenty of elephants, and one lone rhino we almost missed because he was so far away. also, poachers like to kill rhinos because their horns are worth a lot of money, so they are becoming scarce. the only ones we did not see were leopards because they had migrated away from the area during the time were there.

i could literally go on and on about tanzania, but i will wrap up with some final thoughts below. my hope is to return to that area some day and see the progress and difference the projects have made to the culture and economy of the country itself.

things i remember about tanzania:

  • a baboon stole my lunch. no, literally. he (she?) lunged across the picnic table towards me and i instinctively grabbed my camera rather than the edible box of goodies in front of me. it looked at me, stuck my bread roll in its mouth, picked up the box and bounded away. rama, our bus driver, threw rocks at it, but it was too late. and there were no more extra lunch boxes so i did not eat much that day.
  • this crazy lady we went with told me if i stick a penny in my belly button i wouldn’t get my motion sickness. i didn’t try it– because it sounded crazy. and that was one of the more sane things that she said.
  • we had goat on a stake a couple of times in the same day while we were out there. they cook it, over a fire, stake it to the ground, and then cut off pieces with a giant knife. wild dog will hover around you in hopes of getting some scraps.
  • “asanti sana, squash banana” (like rafiki says in The Lion King) does not mean “you’re a monkey’s uncle… and i am not.” it means “thank you very much… squash banana” (no direct translation on the last part)
  • giraffes are the most hilarious animals in the world to watch fight. they kick at each other and swing their necks, but they are so awkward and strangely built that it looks like they are fighting in slow-motion.
  • if you are sitting behind a leaking bathroom that smells like piss on a plane¬†(and i pray this never happens to you), ask the flight attendent to sprinkle coffee grinds around the area. some guy on the flight next to me asked her to do this on our trip (he had already been through this sort of experience) and the smell cleared right up.
  • hyenas are awesome. i don’t care what anyone says about them being unlikeable animals. they (at least the type we saw) look nothing like they do in The Lion King; hyenas look super majestic, powerful, and… damn,¬†are cool. they¬†are fearless.
  • it’s embarrassing to try out your swahili on a tribe that doesn’t even speak the language. i thought the children were giggling at my pronunciation. no. they just had no idea what i was saying, in english or otherwise.
  • do not take glass coke bottles out of tanzania. they look awesome because they are so retro- but once the pop is gone they are returned to a recycle center, sanitized, and new pop is put in them and returned. if you take a pop bottle you are basically stealing a life-time of pop from the country.
  • you can get gifts and such for ridiculously cheap because of the poverty level. if you are going to a more populated town they are used to tourists and know a bit more about haggling and prices that we are used to. the more rural parts are anxious to sell you anything for any price you want. i tried not to take advantage of that too much because i really wanted to help the people.
  • ^ speaking of gifts, they really make some AMAZING things. beaded jewelry, carved wooden sculptures, hand painted canvases. the gifts i remember buying were many small beaded necklaces from a woman’s economic group we were helping, 3 hand carved masaii men (for my parents, my brother’s family, and me), hand carved wooden animals (that i gave away as gifts), some delicious coffee grown at a resort we stayed at, and two canvases that i had stretched and mounted immediately when i got home.
  • hippos kill more people every year than alligators and crocodiles combined. they can run at speeds up to 40 mph. they sneak up underneath boats, open their jaws, and can snap the thing in two. the game hungry, hungry hippos took on a whole new meaning after finding this out.
  • jamie really is a swell gal. i’m lucky to know her and to be in her life.

  • mazunga means “white person.” though i am not, i got called it many times while village children chased after our vehicles and pointed.
  • there are tiny antelopes called dik -diks and they are the cutest things in the world. there are large antelopes with impressive horns as well, and impalas, but the dik-diks take the cake for african animal you want to take home.
  • global partners for development is an amazing non-profit organization filled with people who are desperately trying to make a positive impact on the world. donate if you can, but just¬†check them out for sure.