Twenty-Six

I have officially crossed the bridge into my late twenties and celebrated my 26th birthday yesterday.  Those 26 years have been full of lessons, tears, belly laughs, and new experiences.  This past year, in particular, has been such a whirlwind.  Since September of last year we have moved from China to the US to Chile!  I figured I would share with you 26 things I have learned by being an expat (expatriate).  But first, I wanted to say thank you for all of the kind words on social media over the weekend for my birthday.  You really know how to make a girl feel special! 🙂

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1. Body language does not always work.  I used to think that I could get by with using a lot of body language to get my point across.  While it does work most of the time, it definitely is not a substitute for learning the local language!

2. Making mistakes is okay.  There is no way to learn a language without making a fool of yourself a few times.  I have asked for six prostitutes in China while trying to order some baozi (steamed buns).  I’ve also asked for one noodle of fabric instead of a meter.  But these always end in laughter, and I never forgot the correct word again.

3. The whole world does not speak English.  This can, unfortunately, be a crutch for us native English speakers.  Sometimes we just assume that everyone in the world has learned English in school, so they must be fluent.  That is not the case, and it is such a reward to learn and use a new language.

4. Immersion is the best way to learn.  I love learning new languages, but I get frustrated when it doesn’t come quickly.  I really need to just relax.  However, I have learned a few things about speeding up the acquisition process.  Fully diving in to a language is the best way to learn it–reading books in that language, talking with native speakers, asking people to correct you, listening to music, watching the local news, etc.

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5. Humor is totally cultural.  I can’t count how many times I have either given or received a blank stare after a joke.  The more Derek and I travel, the more I realize that funny really depends on where you are.

6. Travelling doesn’t need to be expensive.  Derek and I are full time educators, so we don’t have overflowing bank accounts.  However, we’ve still travelled to many places and have never felt like we’ve missed out.  We splurge on things that matter, and we save on the things that don’t.

7. Hostels are not scary.  Despite what those terribly graphic flicks told us, hostels are not damp, creepy places.  We have made some great, lifelong friends by staying in hostels and conversing in the living spaces.  Plus, they are the best bet for budget travelling!

8. The world is pretty small.  It doesn’t matter if we are on an island in the Phillippines or walking down the streets of Santiago.  We always end up having a crazy run-in with someone.  Just two months ago, Derek was running in the park and ran into two girls from South Dakota!  They were only in town for one more week, so the chances of seeing people from our home state was so slim.

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9. People don’t always get it.  It is really hard to try to explain to people why we travel.  Sometimes people don’t get why we do what we do.  Sometimes people aren’t very supportive of it.  That happens.  It is bound to happen.  I just wish I could truly explain the joy and the rewards in a few words, but I haven’t found the perfect ones yet.

10.  The people who invented video calling are the best.  If it weren’t for Facetime, Skype, and Google Hangouts, I would be a mess.  We talk to family at least once a week via video calls.  It is so comforting to see the faces of the people we love.  It really makes the distance easier.

11.  The same for WhatsApp and social media.  Say what you will about social media, but I can’t imagine our lives without it.  We are able to keep up with what is going on halfway around the world with the people we love most.  Also, we don’t have to spend outrageous calling and texting fees, because Brian Action and Jan Koum combined forces to create a free service just for reasons like this.

12. Language isn’t a barrier for friendship.  Though it can be difficult to communicate all the time, we have made so many friends that don’t speak English fluently…or at all.  It shouldn’t be a reason to miss out on a potentially great friendship.  We’ve learned so much from friends around the world.  One time I made dumplings with a student of mine in China.  My Mandarin is extremely basic, and her English level was beginner, but we made a recipe from start to finish together and then went on a double date after with Derek and her boyfriend.

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13. Researching a country’s etiquette is a must.  Every place in the world has a different way of doing things.  This is not saying that we have to totally change ourselves to visit a place, but we do need to be respectful of customs and cultures. For example, in the US, people almost always rub the Buddha’s head or belly for luck, but to rub the head of anyone (especially a buddha statue) in Thailand is considered an extreme insult.  If I hadn’t researched that, I would have offended pretty much all of Chiang Mai.  Plus, it just adds to your knowledge base of the world, so bonus!

14. Vegetarian does not mean the same thing everywhere.  In Asia, I would ask for my meals without meat.  It would come with pork or seafood on it a lot of the time.  They didn’t consider these to be meat.  If you are vegetarian, definitely find out exactly how to say what you need, so you don’t end up with a bad experience.

15. Americans say thank you a lot.  In the US, we use please and thank you for pretty much everything.  In some cultures, they thought we were pretty weird.  In China, for example, people do not say thank you for common courtesy things like opening a door.  However, we still did.  That is pretty ingrained in us.

16. You can never judge a person by their government.  While a country’s government might be a stark contrast to your opinion, its people are a different story.  Each person is completely unique, and we can never be too quick to judge based solely on where they happen to live.

18.  Open-mindedness is essential.  It is impossible to travel with a closed mind.  Well, I suppose it is possible, but I would highly suggest opening it before going anywhere.  There have been so many experiences that I would not have taken if I had tunnel vision.  A go-for-it attitude is kind of necessary, especially in cultures that bring you the most culture shock.

19.  Culture shock doesn’t always hit you right away.  In China, culture shock didn’t really hit me until we had been living there for over three months.  I think I had rose-colored glasses for a while.  Culture shock isn’t always necessarily negative either.  Sometimes is smacks you in the face with something amazing.

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20. Cooking is a true art form.  I have always enjoyed cooking, but I would not say that I am anywhere near being a chef or a foodie.  I love learning how to make different local recipes from the countries we visit.  Like art, cooking has so much history, culture, and many stories to tell.  There’s a reason for each step, and if you skip one, it just won’t taste the same.  I love watching people cook traditional dishes, because it makes me imagine their ancestors doing the exact same thing while following the exact same recipe.

21. Some places are great to visit, but not so great to live.  This is definitely a personal thing.  Each country and culture offers so much, and where feels like home really varies person to person.  Every place we’ve visited or lived has offered us amazing experiences that will be cherished for a lifetime.  That being said, not all places are meant for us.  Some places we want to visit again, but living there isn’t an option.

22. Material things just don’t matter that much.  Before travelling to China, I was pretty materialistic.  I didn’t think I was, but in retrospect, I’ve discovered that about myself.  Derek and I have a storage unit that was jam packed full of items from our life together in the US.  We had totes and totes of clothes, home decor, etc. (And, mind you, this was AFTER we downsized!)  Those things were the things we had to have.  Then we went to China.  The best example I can think of is our arrival and departure.  Upon arrival, our employers put us in a hotel (for free!).  I remember I complained about the bathroom.  I thought the place was pretty dingy.  Then, after we lived there for 13 months, we returned to the same hotel to help a new coworker settle in to her new life in China.  I went in the same bathroom, and I said, “Wow!  This bathroom is so nice.  I love the sink.”  In only 13 months, my mindset did a complete 180!  I stopped with the bigger is better, and I now try to have a minimal lifestyle, and we enjoy decorating our house with pieces that hold special significance to us.

23. Staying in touch is hardbut it is also the most important thing.  Over time, it becomes harder and harder to keep in touch with friends.  I have to remind myself to write an email or send a message.  While I am always thinking of my friends, I sometimes forget to tell them.  So, to any of my friends reading this, I will be better!  I think of you often, and I appreciate you more than you know!

24. Being late is not so bad!  I am notorious with my friends for always being late.  It is a family thing, and it has always been that way.  While I try as hard as I can to be on time for events or meeting with friends, I always end up at least five minutes late.  In Abu Dhabi was the first place that this was a normal thing.  People kind of had a fluid relationship with time.  Oh, we said 3:00?  Well, it’s 6:00, and they are just arriving.  I really enjoyed this lifestyle.  It was more carefree, but I will try to be on time for my punctual friends!! 🙂

25.  We really need to cut down our carbon footprints.  Travelling to different cities really showed me how much of an impact we make on the planet.  In some cities it was difficult to see across the street due to the smog, while in others you could see for miles.  It really makes a difference, so we should all try to keep Earth healthy! Check out an easy DIY project here.

26. We really aren’t that different.  As cliche as this sounds, it is so true.  If we look past the superficial, people are not that different.  We all want happiness.  We all strive for success.  We all smile, cry, laugh, fight, and love.  The way in which we do these things may be different, but that is not what matters.  I can’t express how much these travels have changed me and my viewpoint on the world.  I hope we can all experience a new culture, or at least befriend someone who has a different nationality or native language than our own.

travel^photo: Mint Afternoon’s Etsy Shop^

 What have you learned from travelling?  If you haven’t yet, where would you love to go?

XOXO,

maria

City Guide | Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai was full of wonder.  Derek and I discussed what really made Chiang Mai special, and this is our guide to our favorite parts of the city:

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The Whole Earth Restaurant is our top pick for a date night.  It was very well priced, and their menu was quite extensive.  Derek and I both found options that perfectly fit both our palettes.

May Kaidee’s Cooking Class is a must if you are interested in bringing back some knowledge of the recipes.  This particular cooking class is vegetarian, but there are so many more options available.

The street food is absolutely divine, so you don’t need to spend much to really please your taste buds here.  I suggest the spicy green papaya salads and the mango lassi smoothies.

shop-chiang-maithai-walking-marketsThe Night Bazaar (located in the Eastern side of the Old City)  is a must!  There was so much to do, and it was home to the greatest food stands. Plus, there are free shows every night!

We also loved the Sunday Walking Markets (pictured above).  You can find these in the center of Chiang Mai’s Old City.

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bicycle-thailandTuk Tuks & bicycles are the best way to get around this city.  We really preferred the bicycles, because we could stop anytime we wanted and just explore.  If you want to get somewhere quickly (and cheaply) then the Tuk Tuks were the best bet!  Don’t let them fool you with the price.  Most are honest, but the rides shouldn’t be more than 60-100 Thai Baht for a ride within the city.

chiang-mai-templethailand-wat-temple-chiang-maithailand-temple-chiang-maiThe temples, or wats, are a definite must see in Thailand.  They are exquisite, and pop up everywhere.  Definitely check out as many as you can!!

kayak-thailandTake a kayaking trip to see some wildlife and experience the quieter side of Thailand.  We went with Chiang Mai Kayaking, and it was definitely worth it.  Our group was extremely intimate with only three members plus our two guides.  We saw various species of rare birds, a few snakes (eek!), and kayaked past the banana fields.  Do not forget your sunscreen for this one!  I never get sunburns, but my legs were extremely red after this!

spa-thailandpeak-spa-chiang-maiThe Peak Spa was a much-need restoration session for us both.  This was a definite luxury.  The whole experience started with herbal tea and hot towels.  We were able to choose our own aromatherapy oils for our experience.  They have private rooms or you may opt for a couple’s room.  We chose different types of massages but were able to be in the same room.  It was an amazing experience for a nice price tag of $60!  Yes, you read that right!

Lastly, here are some Dos and Don’ts for your trip:

Don’t touch people on the head.  This includes the Buddha statues.  It is considered an extreme act of disrespect.

Don’t disrespect the Thai Royal family!  This is a huge one, because the Thai people take this very seriously.  Some people have even been arrested or fined for insulting them.

Don’t support the abuse of animals!  I would, personally, avoid anything in the Mae Rim Valley, because I only heard negative things about it from the Thai people.  Try to find places that enrich the animals’ lives.  I suggest the Elephant Nature Park!  There’s no riding and no shows, so they are allowed to thrive naturally.

Do smile often!  Thai people are extremely friendly, so be sure to return the kindness.

Do get a fish foot massage!  This was so cool.  The little guys get a meal, and you get the smoothest feet on earth. Win-win!

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Have you been to Thailand?  What did you enjoy most?  Planning on visiting soon?  Did I miss something?  Let me know in the comments!

XOXO,

maria

Thailand | Elephant Nature Park

Imagine a place where elephants with disabilities weren’t discarded as “damaged goods”.  Visualize elephants who can finally relax and heal after years of hard work and abuse.  Picture these said elephants forming new family groups and flourishing in a land that is truly their own.  This place exists, and I feel lucky enough to have experienced it first hand with Derek this past year.

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We weren’t planning on visiting Thailand, but things changed, and we found ourselves on a plane to the northern city of Chiang Mai.  After some serious travel blog research on my part and Reddit surfing on Derek’s, we found some must see places that I will be sharing with you in the next few posts.  Since we both have eles as our favorite animal, the first must was Elephant Nature Park.  I spoke briefly about this magical place in my first blog post, but one this wonderful requires more.

Elephant in RiverElephant Bath^ Bath Time ^

Lek, the founder of ENP, has over 30 elephants on her grounds. She rescued these elephants from sad, prior lives of work varying from logging to street begging to circus acts. Some of the elephants have extreme handicaps, but their newfound happiness was visible. There was no riding, no shows, no chains, no abuse and no work, so these elephants could just be elephants again. They’ve created small herds and have gone back to some of their natural ways. There were two babies on the grounds when Derek and I visited (Nawaan, boy, 7 months & Dok Noi, girl, 4 months). It was incredible. We were able to feed, bathe, and play with the elephants who were social. Those that preferred a more natural (and wild) life did not associate with the humans, and Lek hopes to put these animals back into the wild when she buys some secure jungle land! 🙂 All in all…incredible.

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Do you love elephants, too?  Find out how you can help here, read more about each of the elephants here, or plan your visit here.

XOXO,

maria

 

 

Travel | Trapiche Wine Tour

This week has been pretty full of our travel adventures in Mendoza, but the aromas from the many varietals of Malbec are giving me fragrant flashbacks.  So much so, that I had to add one more post to highlight my personal favorite stop on our bicycle ride through Maipu.  That gem would be Trapiche.  They’ve been making wines since 1883, so we were able to take a glimpse into the past as well.  The estate is absolutely beautiful, and I kept falling behind the group to take shots of everything.

DSC_3144DSC_3217This tour stood out above the others for several reasons.  Their estate was to die for, and their wines followed suit. They didn’t give us that touristy vibe, but instead made us feel as if we were training to become  sommeliers!  We learned so much about grapes, regions of the world known for specific varietals of these grapes, how to properly taste a wine (coming soon!), and the basics from grape selection to bottling.

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Have a happy weekend!  We will be heading to a few markets this weekend hoping to spot some interesting finds for our apartment.  What are your plans for the weekend?

XOXO, 

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Travel | Bikes + Wines in Mendoza

Mendoza, Argentina is famous for its wines, specifically for its Malbecs.  Therefore, touring the bodegas (wineries) in Maipu was a top item on the list for our visit.  Many people opt to rent cars, join a tour group, or hop on the vans, but we decided to rent bicycles.  We met some pretty fantastic people at Alamo Hostel & Suites, so we decided to join forces.  I would love to hug the person who invented the idea of wine tours on bikes, because it was the perfect way to customize it to our individual tastes.  We weren’t bound by a strict schedule or itinerary, which made it more relaxed and personal.

DSC_3128Although we visited in winter, it was about 75°F (23°C) daily!  ^

 You may think a vineyard is a vineyard, right?  Wrong!  Each destination offered something unique.  They all had their own aesthetics and evinced different feelings and vibes.  The newer vineyards were modern, laid back, and usually had the best meals.

DSC_3147DSC_3149DSC_3152^  Tempus Alba–Best Lunch ^

DSC_3164DSC_3166DSC_3168^ Mevi–Best Deal ^

The older vineyards were the places to go for quality tours and tastings.  They also proved to be the best bet for improving our knowledge about the different varietals.

DSC_3173DSC_3181^  Familia di Tommaso–Derek’s Favorite Cabarnet ^

 We even stopped to taste some artisanal liquors, jams, chocolates, and olive oils along the way at Tierra de Lobo & Entre Olivos!

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All of the places we visited had something unique, and Derek and I ended up dabbling across the board.  He ended up loving a spicy Cabernet, while I couldn’t get enough of the Malbecs!  (Oh, and the Dulce de Leche liquor from Tierra de Lobo!)  What’s your favorite wine or spirit?

XOXO,

tattoo-design-female-name-maria (2)

Travel | Road Trip to Mendoza

For the past three weeks, Derek and I have been on our winter holiday from work.  (We just started back today!)  We decided to spend our last week in Mendoza, Argentina–a.k.a. Argentina’s wine capital in the region of Cuyo!  I could not recommend it more.  It was a perfect escape from our crazy city lives.  We were able to taste the best Malbecs, ride bicycles around the city, eat some amazing food, soak in the Argentine culture, and we did it all on a really tight budget!!  There are many ways one can get to Mendoza (fly, drive, rent a car, etc.), but we opted for the hyped-up bus trip through the Andes.  I read several travel blogs before we decided that was definitely our best option.  I cannot stress how amazing it was.  The panoramic views were unbeatable, and I was able to take several photos.  However, if you are prone to motion sickness (like me), then I would suggest taking some Dramamine!  I was feeling pretty queasy on the twists and turns up the Chilean side of the Andes.  We researched a few different companies, and we decided on Andesmar with semi-cama seats.  It was a very comfortable trip, and they provided us with snacks, hot drinks, and some bilingual movie selections.  It was the perfect start to our Argentine getaway!

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DSC_3091 ^ Chilean side of the Andes ^

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^ We made it! ^

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^ Isn’t this shot of the Argentine sunset dreamy?  I loved the colors. ^

So all in all, the 8 hours to Mendoza and the 11 (yes, 11!) hours back to Santiago were well worth it for those views.  The yummy snacks and sandwiches at the customs made up for the long wait!  Have you ever taken a long distance bus trip?  Tell me about it below!

XOXO,

tattoo-design-female-name-maria (2)