Friday, December 30, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Where am I now?

Today I was definitely called out on my lack of blogging, so I thought it was time to revisit and start answering a few of the questions I've been getting a lot of lately:

What exactly are you doing?? This is my favorite and given the insane amount of activity I've had in the last 18 months, it seems quite boring to just say I'm living in Chicago now. But if you know me, you know that my life is never without activity. After all, I rescued a lost child, aided a woman who fell in the street, helped a woman who had a seizure while shopping, not to mention my crime fighting job... just your everyday activities. Alright, well, maybe not the fighting crime, but all of the other things really did happen. What I don't think I've ever experienced before is such a connection to so many of the people around me. I have stopped to help countless people with directions, I've had brief conversations with some of the most random people including the guy begging for change (and in our brief connection he never once asked for anything). I don't know if this is because I have more time to appreciate the people around me or because I've become more open to everyone after living in New Zealand. Either way, I like what has happened.

And, when I'm not saving lives, I stay busy with other activities (including shooting guns, hosting a Friends-thanksgiving, and a few bar crawls). I'm make ends meet with contracted jobs and temp work. I haven't resorted to standing on street corners yet...

How are you handling all of this? I am naturally a pretty positive person. I have confidence that things will work out eventually, at least, based on my past experience I have no reason to believe they won't. One of the positives: I get to spend more time with my family around the holidays.
Have you thought about moving back to New Zealand? Absolutely. If I were to move anywhere right now that would definitely be on the top of my list. But it's hard for me because I have such wonderful friends in Chicago and my family is now close enough for me to easily visit. With summer hitting the Southern Hemisphere and so many friends still back in New Zealand, I constantly think about what it would be like to move back there again, but for now, I'm sticking to Chicago.

What is your next adventure? I love this question because it means that people are supportive of my crazy whims. I just took my first train ride from Chicago to Kansas City and I loved it! I think it would have been even more fun if it hadn't been dark outside for a majority of the trip, however, it was still a great experience. Monday I fly out to Colorado where I am meeting up with more family for a week of skiing. Saturday afternoon I head back to Chicago to enjoy the holidays, hopefully with some snow and a picturesque walk along Michigan Avenue. I'd like to make it to Miami and St. Louis early next year to visit friends and as the weather warms I'm also hoping for a trip to Washington DC. But much of this planning has to be put on hold for now so that I can build up my savings again and be able to afford these trips and adventures. In the meantime, I have a guest bedroom and an air mattress and anyone is welcome... just don't expect much food in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it."

- Thomas Jefferson (3rd President of the United States)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Go the All Blacks!

Every four years twenty teams from around the globe compete in the Rugby World Cup (RWC) for the rights to the Ellis Cup. The tournament is only surpassed in viewership by the Soccer World Cup, the Olympics and the Tour de France. This amazingly rough and exciting sport is viewed in more than 200 countries by millions of viewers, but most of the people in the US don't even know of its existence. This year, the RWC was hosted in New Zealand which is a huge ordeal and great opportunity to show off the country. And, even better, the New Zealand team (the All Blacks), were playing well too! It was looking to be a good year for New Zealand rugby fans.

My new flat screen tv for the RWC
In September, just after moving into my apartment in Chicago the RWC kicked off with an amazing opening ceremony. I stayed up late to watch it on my new flat screen tv, purchased so that I would have it in time to view the event. There were several hakas performed and some beautiful effects. Little did I know, this would be the last rugby game I would be able to watch live during the tournament.

I kept up with the news, I tracked my friends' updates on Facebook, I followed my teams as best as I could from the other side of the world (the time difference didn't help as most games were played at 11p and 2a). The United States didn't make it out of the first round. But the All Blacks were still looking strong winning games and showing promise.

In this video the All Blacks perform the haka before playing Australia in the semi-finals.

After years of preparation and speculation, and seven weeks of games the All Blacks made it to the final round. The game was slated for 9pm in Auckland at Eden Park against France. That meant it was a 4am kick off time in the Eastern United States, where I was staying in Tampa. After a fruitless search of the sports channels, I resigned myself to the fact that I would not be able to watch the game. I was wrong. Thanks to Skype, amazing friends, and my uncle's internet connection, I was video skypped (is that a word?) into the viewing party at my friend Daniel's house. Daniel, his girlfriend, and 10 other people were watching the game and were more than happy to include me (via Daniel's laptop) in the party.

Bright and early (3:45am), with my hair in a rough ponytail, my glasses on, no makeup and a sleepy glaze over my eyes, I waited on Skype to say hello to many of the friends I left over 8 months ago. Aside from the occasional nudity (courtesy of my friends in the room having a little too much fun with the computer cam), I had an awesome view and was able to watch the game in a prime seat (a table directly in front of the flat screen) for the entire game.

The haka took on a new excitement when I was around my Kiwi friends again. And then as the game progressed, I could hear the shouting and cheering as the time ticked down and the All Blacks scraped out a win against the French (final score NZ 8 v France 7). The raucous singing of "We Are the Champions" was the perfect end to my night (or morning) and it reminded me of how wonderful that country and the people that live there truly are... one more great memory to add to an incredibly long list.

Trips, Trips, Trips

Sometimes time just slips away and pretty soon it's been more than a month since I last posted to my blog but my life hasn't slowed down. I thought I would take a minute to update everyone with my latest travels:

Family and Friends in Boulder
Over Labor Day weekend I was fortunate enough to visit my grandparents in Colorado for a week. It was my last trip around the United States to catch up with my family and friends (or so I thought). While I was there my grandfather played the perfect host. The two things I definitely wanted to accomplish before I left (a trip to Pearl Street Mall and buying a post card) were done within an hour after I arrived. Which meant that everything from that point on was a bonus! Some of the highlights of my trip included:
Pearl Street, Boulder
  • Pearl Street Mall: A great place to see hippies, yuppies, and every rare species in between. The pedestrian mall has street performers (it really gets busy on the weekend nights), cute shops and restaurants. It's definitely quintessential Boulder.
  • Boulder Creek Festival: A series of tents set up along the river in downtown Boulder where we perused the arts and crafts and Grandma had fun observing the people. My grandmother, who suffers from dementia, is still one of the funnier people I know, particularly when she doesn't realize she's being funny.
  • Dinner with the family: On Saturday night I got to enjoy a nice lasagna and then college football with my grandparents, my cousin and his girlfriend, a friend of the family and her daughter (Jen and Madelyn). It started with bunny ears made from our napkins and just got sillier from there.
  • Denver Art Museum: Grandpa and I took a trip into Denver (a place that I've never really explored despite all of my trips to the area) to see the art museum. My favorite part was throwing clay in a workshop they had set up for their special exhibit "Mud". The rest of the museum was really nice and in an impressive building, with some interesting permanent exhibits. I had a soft spot for the Pacific Island collection of artifacts they had which included a few Maori pieces.
Throwing clay, Denver Art Museum

Missouri Homecoming
Last weekend, I was able to drive back to Columbia, Missouri for a reunion with my friends from college. It was the first time since I left school that I've been able to make it back for the Homecoming game and this one was the 100th anniversary of our Homecoming so it was kind of a big deal (MU likes to claim starting the tradition of Homecoming but I've never really looked into the truth behind that). I stayed with a friend (also a former college roommate) at his house in Columbia with some of my other friends and their significant others. We went out on Friday night in town to watch the Cardinals game and have a few drinks and then got up early on Saturday for a full day of tailgating.

Tailgating outside the stadium, Columbia, Missouri

It wasn't until I was sipping my Trops (a delicious frozen beverage that's basically a slush with alcohol) at 10:30a sitting around the BBQ and elaborate spread of food that I realized this was the first official tailgate I've ever been to (I can't believe I claimed to be a Midwesterner before this point - it's atrocious!). I spent the rest of the day bouncing between friends and other tailgates and food. I was in heaven. Oh, and we won the game but that was merely a side note for my day.

Celebrating the MU win with college friends

After a very long day on Saturday, I woke up early again on Sunday to make the 2.5 hour drive to my mom's house in Kansas City. I spent the day visiting with her (and catching up on my sleep) before packing up my car and driving back to Chicago the next day. It was a long drive home and it was only made longer by the yowling of my sister's cat that I was bringing home with me (my cat was perfectly quiet curled up behind my seat), the rain, and a gas overflow at one of my fuel stops.... but I made it home and it was a fantastic weekend.

Tampa, Florida
In the midst of all of my traveling, moving and socializing, I have actually been searching for a job. The process is a little slower than I would like but I'm getting a bit of work in the meantime to make ends meet. One of my latest jobs is helping my old company with its conference in Tampa, which means I was able to come down a day early so that I could see my family in the area for the evening. To make the trip even better, my rental car was upgraded (for free) to a new mustang. I was sad I only had it for one day.

My Upgrade at Avis

It was a last minute opportunity so unfortunately it didn't give me a lot of time with them but it's always nice to see family. And although this will be a busy week, I have Halloween to look forward to next weekend!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Photos Galore!

I realize it's been awhile since I last posted on my blog. I've been busy trying to get the most out of my summer before it's all over. As it's finally coming to a close, I thought it was time to cross a few things off my list that have been there for awhile. The first: posting photos from the remainder of my Asian Adventure on Facebook and on my blog. Enjoy! (Click on the album below to see it in full screen mode)


Southern Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An)

Northern Vietnam (Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa)

Guilin & Xi'an, China

Beijing, The Great Wall and Home

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Just Like Christmas

You know that feeling when you wake up on Christmas morning and you know you will have gifts but you have no idea what they will be or what the day has in store?  Well, yesterday I had Christmas in August! Seventeen months ago I packed my entire apartment into a storage unit and sent it away leaving only the things I would be taking to New Zealand. Yesterday, the container was delivered and moved into my new apartment in Chicago.

I've never had professional movers before so it was a nice treat to just watch (or at least attempt to, as it turns out I'm not very good at just observing without helping) as my things were marched out of the storage unit.  I found myself getting more and more excited as boxes and belongings popped into view.  My tent! My golf clubs! My rollerblades! My ice skates!! I actually started to feel bad for the two movers because they couldn't keep me off the truck. I kept going up to try to "help" by pulling out all the odd shaped items that wouldn't stack neatly on their piles.  Or at least that's what I told myself, in reality I just wanted to see what might be next in this box of goodness.

By noon everything had been unloaded and it was time to open boxes and put things away. What many people dread during a move, was just more Christmas to me. One of the things I have missed most over the last 9 months (that's how long it's been since I've had a place to call home), is cooking for myself regularly. I wouldn't consider myself to be a cook, until I had to go without a kitchen for extended periods.  I tackled the kitchen first (cleaning before things could be put away) and then I moved to the bedroom, bathroom and storage.  I was an unpacking machine.  Dishes, clothes, photos, it all brought back a familiar feeling and memories.  There was always an odd one too... (where did that lei come from and why did I decide I needed it??). 

I even left my unpacking mania momentarily to meet the neighbors and see if anyone had a wireless signal I could temporarily borrow.  I was thrilled to find that directly across the hall is a couple that is my age and awesome!! I think I'm going to like it here (for awhile anyway). 

This morning I woke in my own bed.  Tonight I made dinner with my own pots and pans, cutting food with my own knives. I left dishes out after I ate. I filled the refrigerator with my own food. I still have a lot to do, in fact my list is about a mile long, but it's a start. Now I just need to find my own job.

Things to be thankful for:
- Great neighbors
- Another new beginning
- Future opportunities

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Last Stop: Motor City

Our last stop on this road trip included a few nights in Detroit to stay with our aunt and uncle (actually our great-aunt and great-uncle, but sometimes I forget that). I have stopped over many times to visit them in Grosse Ile, which is actually just south of Detroit but this was the first time I had a chance to stay longer than just one night.

Uncle Don, Aunt Lee and Matthew (their grandson, our cousin)
We crossed the bridge into the city from Canada at 9:00p on Monday and my sister pulled over into a gas station so we could get our bearings and type in the address on my GPS (we hadn't had cell signals since we left Maine on Thursday).  We were followed into the station by a green SUV, which was then followed by a police car.  Within two minutes the guys in the SUV were taken out and cuffed. After looking around we realized we may not have chosen the best location to stop...we quickly put ANY address into the GPS and left.

Detroit has taken a huge hit from the loss of jobs and the economic downturn, particularly in the auto industry and we learned that unlike most cities there is actually a shift going and people are leaving the inner city.  The city is essentially hollowing out as the economy is changing.  In order to counteract this shift, the government has taken a unique stance and they are encouraging "urban farming." (A few of the names I came across as I was looking into this are: Hantz Farms, Urban Farming, and Earthworks Urban Farm in case anyone is interested in more information).  It was fascinating and encouraging for me to learn the government was thinking outside of the box.

1956 Thunderbird in the museum
This leads me to my quintessential Detroit: the auto industry. My family has told me for years that I should visit the Henry Ford museum and each year I had to pass due to time constraints.  Well not this year and now I wish I had found the time sooner.  The museum is a huge building that masterfully brings visitors into the excitement of trains, planes and automobiles (and this coming from someone that looks at a car and usually just sees a car, not a piece of art). Although it's a massive building it's separated into sections to help you view what is of interest. Volunteers are spread throughout the museum to help you understand more about what you are seeing and in some cases they allow you to get right up close (I sat in a 1917 Overland and on the same seat where Rosa Parks refused to yield on the infamous bus).

Lydia driving the 1917 Overland
We spent much of the day exploring and wandering the area and we didn't even make it to the "village" where they have re-built famous buildings (nail for nail) from America's past including the home where Webster wrote his first American dictionary, and Edison created the light bulb, or where Lincoln practiced law.

At the end of our visit we each shared our favorite from the museum (we had split up during the day to focus on what we wanted to see).  It was interesting to hear how five different people had been in the same place and found so many different things to explore.

Lydia and I arriving back in Chicago
It all came full circle when I realized that my own car, which has taken me more than 3500 miles around the country on this trip, was also a Ford ('99 Escort) and had roots in this city as well. How fitting that this was the last stop on my trip before getting home.

Next stop:  Colorado over Labor Day week

Author's Note: Thank you to all of my wonderful family and friends who opened up their homes to me (and my sister) while we went on this fun journey.  I am happy to be home in Chicago now, but I am happier that I had time to spend with you all after so many years (because it was long before I left for New Zealand that I last saw many of you). To those that I haven't seen traveling is never really over...

My grandfather sent me some interesting numbers to help with the image of Detroit's population. I thought I would share them with you:
  • in 1900 Detroit had a population of 300,000.
  • in 1950 Detroit had a population of 1,000,000.
  • in 2010 Detroit has a population of 300,000.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ooo la la, Montreal

What an awesome city! I arrived on Thursday to stay with one of my best friends from college and her new husband in their apartment in Montreal (it was their wedding that started the trip for me in Missouri in July).  This was the first time I've visited this apartment in Montreal and it was a great location! On Friday I did a little bit of relaxing and exploring the shops nearby and then we grabbed an early dinner and some drinks that evening.

Saturday was a beautiful sunny day and we took advantage of it by using a cool bike rental program in the city. Bixi bikes cost $5 for a bike rental for 24 hours.  The only key is that you pick up the bike from one of the 200 locations they have around the city and then you have to drop it off again either at the same location or a new one within 30 minutes. It's a great way to move around easily, cheaply and get exercise at the same time. We rented a bike in the Old Port and went across the river to one of the other islands (Montreal itself is on an island) to explore.

Without many clouds in the sky it started to get a bit warm by the afternoon so we headed back for some Thai food and naps before hitting the town that night. I was having a blast practicing my French (or lack thereof) greeting and thanking everyone throughout the day. (This only became a problem when they tried to respond at all with more French).

Saturday night we went out to get dinner in Saint Laurent (at L'Academie) which was very good and then we hit a martini bar (A Gogo Lounge) and finally settled at B Side, a very empty bar (which packed out as the night went on) with some great 90s music and a DJ that looked a little like Jesus but went by the name of Derek. The night was really leading up to was the poutine - a Montreal staple.

Poutine, a Montreal essential
When I asked what was "quintessential" Montreal, poutine was the first thing that was mentioned. Poutine originated in Quebec and is a dish of french fries, with cheese curds and brown gravy covering it all. Needless to say, I was not overly excited about this considering I only moderately like all of the ingredients included. I still think that this is not a food for the sober man (others may disagree).  However, for someone that has just left the bars on a Saturday was oddly delicious!

Sunday was spent relaxing (a theme for the weekend) intermixed with a bit more walking around the city (I now own a great new pair of shoes, checked out a few clothing boutiques, tried some frozen yogurt, and saw part of the Montreal Pride parade).  It is a wonderful, sophisticated city with a lot of European flair. I would go back again in a heartbeat, but my liver is much happier to be on the road again.  Next stop: Detroit.

Andrew, Malena and me out on the town Friday night

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Memories in Maine

Looking out on Great Moose Lake, Maine
When I was a kid we went to Maine for a month every summer.  We would spend the time on the lake at our family's camps (cabins for those outside of the Northeast) by Great Moose Lake. The other families that live or summer on the lake have been there for generations (it was our great-grandfather that originally started the Martin business in the 1920s) so my sister and I were known as "Greg's daughters" and most of our family still lives in the area. It's very different from the way I grew up in Missouri where my nearest relatives were in Colorado a 10 hour drive away.

Lobster Fest in Maine
My return to Maine this year brought back many of my memories from childhood and I gained some new memories too. Within two days of arriving, I genuinely forgot what day of the week it was (always a good sign at a vacation place). Time just seems to become unimportant. We spent time swimming, kayaking, reading, and relaxing. But with some effort I also made sure to continue my tourist mission and I ate lobster at every opportunity, drove Route 1 along the coast, visited L.L. Bean and Freeport, and went to a festival (the Lobster Fest!) to make sure I was seeing quintessential Maine.

Beyond the copious amounts of lobster I made it my job to eat, one of my greatest highlights of my time in Maine was spending an afternoon with my family. It's been a long time since we've been all together for a BBQ (although there were still a few people that were missed).

Lydia, Grampie (who turns 93 this month!), and Me
Things to be thankful for:
- My car making it to 100,000 miles!

- The Northeast. I don't know when I'll make it back again, but I will miss it until I do.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Biking Block Island and Heading North

On Saturday morning my uncle, cousin, sister and I took the ferry over to Block Island just off the coast of Rhode Island. (Author's note: I now realize that this naming could cause some confusion for people that aren't familiar with this area since Rhode Island is not actually an island at all.  It does have several islands off its coast, one of which is in fact where the state's name originated from.  The full name of the state is "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" but that seems awfully long for the smallest state in the country and I wasn't even aware of it until I checked out Wikipedia...)

Paul: Pure concentration
Anyway, back on Block Island, the four of us arrived and immediately went to rent bikes and start exploring.  Unfortunately, it was turning out to be a hot day so what may have been a long ride became a much more leisurely paced tour around just a small slice of the island.  We stopped by the road to putter around on some greens kindly set up by a local (I barely scraped out a win in our own round robin family tourney). The golf was followed by more biking (this time mostly downhill) and a stop at the beach for some swimming, splashing and a few short races (again amongst ourselves).

That afternoon we headed back to the mainland for a BBQ hosted by my aunt's family in Narragansett. There were times when I wouldn't have been shocked if a Casey Affleck character had walked in and joined the conversation with his own stories of growing up. I was surrounded by true Northeasterners: dialect and all.  I enjoyed sitting back and taking it all in.

Meagan, Me, Kate enjoying the afternoon
And was time to leave.  My entire week in Boston and Rhode Island ended in the blink of an eye. I was having so much fun re-visiting places, doing things I haven't done and catching up with people, that I didn't even realize it was flying by. I made it back to Boston on Sunday and was fortunate enough to meet up with my American roommate, Meagan, who was coincidentally also in the city visiting a friend. We had a great afternoon in South Boston and then an awesome dinner by the water at a swanky Mexican cantina (called Temazcal in case anyone is in the area. I would recommend it).

I ended my fantastic week talking politics, solving the world's problems, and sipping wine with my family on the back deck of their house. Monday morning it was off to Maine for more family time and a bit more "quintessential" America.

Next up: Moving up the coast to Maine

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Playing in the Sand

After leaving Cape Cod we drove south to Narragansett, Rhode Island to meet my aunt, uncle and cousin for the weekend.  On Thursday night I tried some quahogs (quintessential Rhode Island) and we made plans for the beach on Friday morning.
The day was a bit cloudy but it wasn’t going to stop us.  We paid our beach fee (a sore point for someone that enjoyed free beaches in New Zealand – but it was a nice beach and right outside of our hotel so in the end a small price to pay) and set up camp between the surfers and swimmers.

First on the agenda: building a sand castle.  My uncle and I plotted a spot and then started to dig, 5 minutes into what was surely to be our masterpiece we changed directions and decided to test our skills with a sand turtle instead (the lack of building utensils may have been a big part of our switch).  People on the beach were beginning to admire what we were working on, a crowd was forming (actually it was just my sister offering her critique of the dimensions of said turtle) and soon we had a nearly life-like specimen.  Or at least we thought we did pretty well.

We sank back into our chairs and within five minutes a small, seemingly innocent boy of about 6 came over to admire the work.  I don’t think he realized he was standing within 20 feet of the creators because he bent down to inspect it a bit further. He carefully started appraising the turtle from several angles before plucking out the seashells that had been placed as eyes.  Ok, maybe he doesn’t think the eyes were well placed.  We weren’t really sure where they went when we created it anyway.  But, he had our attention. 

My family and I all watched bemused as the small boy then started to meticulously destroy the front flippers.  He wasn’t the smash and stomp type either.  He grabbed handfuls of sand and squished it between his little fingers letting it drop back in place, essentially pulverizing our turtle in slow tortuous steps.  Where was this child’s parents?! We had no choice but to giggle and observe as this child did his best work to destroy ours.

Next to go were the back flippers and then a nearby stick became a new tool of destruction and the turtle’s shell was turned into a mixing bowl for what he must have imagined was now turtle soup.  As the piece de resistance he threw a crab shell that was also within reach into the concoction and gave another callous stir with the stick. When that was finished he tossed the stick in and strutted away (yes, there was definitely a swagger in his step). 

An hour of building and 15 minutes of destruction.  It’s great how much fun can be had with just some sand.

Next Up:  Block Island, Visiting friends, and Dinner on the pier in Boston

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Quintessential Boston: Chowdah and Cape Cod

I arrived in Boston on Monday afternoon, perfect timing to see my uncle and cousin play in their recreational hockey league that night.  The last time I watched my cousin on the ice, he was no taller than my waist (he now towers over me at 6’3”) and I’ve never had the privilege of watching my uncle play so I was excited. Even shivering on the bench as the sole spectator, I had fun watching them crush their opponents (who were in the tougher division above them).  

My cousin, Paul (#10)
My uncle keeping his eye on the puck

On Tuesday morning, my sister arrived and we headed out to the Cape for a few nights of camping. The campground was a great little place (Sweetwater Forest) in Brewster about 1/3 of the way up the Cape.  We set up camp and found our way to the local seafood/ice cream place for some local fare.  My new favorite word is “quintessential” and in the Boston area that happens to be Clam Chowder (“chowdah” to the locals) and Cape Cod.  I had both when I sat down to some clam cakes, clam chowder and a soda at a picnic table after arriving on the Cape. 

The next day offered beautiful weather in the 80s (especially considering it was in the 100s in the Midwest) for a day filled with biking and exploring.  That night we even caught a Cape League baseball game when the Brewster Whitecaps played the Chatham A’s and won. 

The weather was perfect and my first three days in the Boston area couldn’t have gone better.  My accomplishments as a tourist in America are quickly growing.

Biking 14 miles along the Cape Cod Rail Trail:  Check.
Watching a baseball game on Cape Cod:  Check.
Enjoying some chowder and ice cream in Boston:  Check.

Next Up:  A weekend with the family in Rhode Island.

Friday, July 29, 2011

New York, New York

The Big Apple. Wow. Well I made it safely last Monday to New York City (or rather just outside of it in Jersey). I was staying in Hoboken with one of my best friends and to be honest, before arriving I hadn't heard many positive things about New Jersey.  Afterall, MTV did a great job of giving Jersey Shore quite a reputation. Maybe the low expectations helped, because I was pleasantly surprised.  With local bars mixed in with stores and row houses alike, it was a young neighborhood with a lot of trendy charm. I was quickly hooked. 

Dave lives in the middle of Hoboken (which isn't difficult as it's a very small town across the Hudson from Manhattan) so I parked my car at his office and enjoyed getting around on public transport and my own two feet for the week.  I made arrangements to meet various friends for a few lunch dates and a happy hour.  Each time I went into Manhattan I either arrived early or stayed late to wander around the city and enjoy the energy that pulsed around me. It's definitely a people watching paradise.

Meeting with friends in NYC: Anne, Maurice, and Neha
Since I have visited New York before, I didn't feel like I needed to do the touristy things, which was good because it was ridiculously hot (over 100 degrees on Wednesday through Friday) and I wasn't really capable of doing much of anything more than wander aimlessly around the city.

Dave and I made it to the theater on Wednesday night for "Sleep No More" but it wasn't the traditional Broadway play that most tourists see in New York.  This "play" for lack of a better term, took place in an old hotel in the Chelsea/Meatpacking District and all of the audience members were encouraged to "watch" by wandering around the floors, peering in rooms, opening dressers and doors, and following after the actors. It was a bit of a mystery as you tried to figure out what part you were watching and who was involved.  At one point a murder occurs which adds to the suspense of it all.

The feeling I had when I left the play was the same as the one I regularly had in AP Literature back in high school...I knew I was supposed to be getting a much deeper meaning but it was definitely escaping me. I had a lot more fun taking it all for face value, being completely voyeuristic, and running after the actors.  And I had the help of someone who had been to the show before and could fill me in on some of the other things that we didn't see (each time you go back you see things differently as you wander around the building and see different scenes at different times).

On Friday I was on my own so I hit up a local Hoboken bar and quickly made friends. I spent the entire night talking to the bouncer, the bartender, and (as I found out later) the bar owner, and a revolving door of guys that sat down next to me.  It was highly entertaining and made for a fun night out, even if I didn't make it across the Hudson into Manhattan, it still felt like New York to me (although all the locals would definitely disagree).

Saturday was another hot day and after a late night I wasn't up for much. But it meant that I was well rested for a night in Manhattan.  I was not disappointed. Sushi in Manhattan at a bar that we pulled up on my phone after getting off the train, drinks at a bar in the Meatpacking District, back to Hoboken to meet some friends for dancing and more drinks, and then back to Manhattan before the bars closed, and finally some late night (or early morning) pizza before getting back into Hoboken as the sun was rising.  If I didn't care about my savings (from the paycheck I hope to have soon), I would move here in an instant!

At Coney Island on the boardwalk
After sleeping most of the day away on Sunday (I needed to catch up somehow), we headed out to Coney Island for a hot dog and a walk on the boardwalk.  It was a perfect way to end my week in New York, well that and a late-night date on Sunday with someone I met on the train ride out to Hoboken on Friday. This city sure moves fast.

Next stop...Boston, Cape Cod, and Rhode Island.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You Can Take the Girl Out of the Midwest...

The St. Louis Arch
I may have left the Midwest, but it still feels like home whenever I go back.  I've accomplished a lot in the last 10 days. Let's see how well I can summarize it, since I've been a little delayed in updating my blog.  My time in St. Louis flew by as I met with friends (one of whom I hadn't seen in 10 years!), and enjoyed some rest and relaxation.  Even with the ridiculous heat (it was in the high 90s when I was leaving), I loved the time I was able to spend there.
Part of my motivation for staying in St. Louis a full week was so that I could see the last Harry Potter movie with a few of my friends there.  We went all out and saw it in 3D, although it wasn't my favorite movie of the series it was fun to end an era with my friends.

On Saturday I took off and headed north and east, with a stop at the arch (a must see when you visit St. Louis) and a stop in Indianapolis to visit a friend for lunch. I grabbed dinner in Columbus with another friend and his girlfriend before heading just outside of the city to visit one of my three cousins that live in the city.

Two of my college roommates Doug and Ryan
At the Harry Potter movie

Watching the Polar Bear at the Columbus Zoo
We enjoyed some evening cocktails on Buckeye Lake that night (and s'mores because it's summer time and why not?).  On Sunday I was treated to a full tour of the city.  As it was my first visit to the area I didn't have a lot of expectations. After such a great day with some awesome guides, I may not be able to match it again.  We visited the zoo (one of the best in the country) and the recently opened polar bear exhibit was a highlight.  I watched from under a glass ceiling as the bear jumped in just after we arrived and swam and played above us (it was awesome).  But the day wasn't over yet because I was then treated to a VIP table at Buca di Beppo (we sat at the special table in the kitchen, just by chance) and enjoyed a tour of Columbus including a campus tour and a private showing of the Ohio State Football Stadium (It helps to know the right people.  With just the three of us in the entire stadium I got to run out on the field.  Even though I'm not an OSU fan I was impressed).

On the Ohio State Football field
With the Family at Buca di Beppo

Monday morning I headed off to New York City for another week of catching up with friends and enjoying the sites... that week deserves it's own blog entry entirely.  More to come...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Bit of Southern Hospitality

The Mighty Mississippi River
This past weekend I drove to Portageville, Missouri for the wedding of one of my best friends from college. I met one of my college roommates in St. Louis and the two of us drove 3 hours south for the weekend of events.

We were immediately welcomed to Malena's family's home (and their pool) for a relaxing Friday afternoon.  Then we hit up the local bar where we made friends with everyone there within 20 minutes of sitting down. It was a typical small town pub and I was lovin' it. Around 8pm a few other people that were clearly visiting for the wedding came wandering in (which was evident by the big eyes and tentative steps they were taking into the bar). We quickly welcomed them and soon they were just as comfortable as everyone else.  And then the wedding party showed up with the rest of the family and the socializing really got started. It was a great way to start the wedding weekend.

Beth and I with the Bride
We got in some pool time again on Saturday morning (and for a little while we were joined in the pool by the Father of the Bride, much to the dismay of the Mother of the Bride). It was looking to be a beautiful day with just enough clouds and no more heat and humidity than was necessary to remind us that we were in the South. After cleaning up at the hotel we took a shuttle to the church (which was actually a couple limos - Awesome!). It was going to be a packed church so we were happy the A/C was cranked up. Another friend and I went behind the scenes to wish the bride a bit of luck before the ceremony (she looked gorgeous of course and despite our matching dress color we weren't actually in the wedding party).

It was a neat ceremony. Performed by the groom's uncle in a Catholic church that seats 270, it was stuffed to the gills. Andrew's family is Ukranian so the ceremony was Ukranian Orthodox and 90% was sung by the priest and his assistant. There were traditional crowns placed on heads of the bride and groom and the congregation participated in much of the ceremony with responses. I'm sure it was the most unique ceremony that they've had in Portageville for awhile (maybe ever) and I'm glad that I was there to witness it.

The reception started immediately following the ceremony (and we were treated to another ride in the limo to the reception hall). Although the exhibition hall, where the reception was held, was outside of town surrounded by fields of corn and cotton, once you entered it was hard to remember where you were.  The hall was decorated with tables, food displays, and flowers everywhere. It was set up for 500 guests so it had to be big, but with curtains separating the space it never felt overwhelming.

Andrew and Malena at the head table
That night we danced, sang, and enjoyed meeting new people. It was an eclectic group. Andrew's family is from the Ukraine and Pennsylvania. But the couple has been living in Montreal for the last several years.  Malena has lived in LA and DC too. People came from around the world and weren't disappointed with the hospitality of all of the wonderful people in Portageville. There were still a few Ukrainian traditions at the reception but it was clear that more of the small town flavor was felt in the dancing and drinking.

Dancing as husband and wife
We ended the weekend with a brunch back at Malena's parent's house. It included a farm tour for those that hadn't been there before, swimming, BBQ, and later some skeet shooting in the field out back. It was a sweltering day and you could drink the air it was so humid.  We took off just after lunch for our drive back north. It was a great wedding, a wonderful weekend, and an awesome way for the couple to kick off their new lives together.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Wedding Equation

An incredible bride and groom with a lot of great friends and family +
475 Outgoing People from Southern Missouri and Around the World +
Country Music +
Margaritas, Liquor, and kegs of beer +
No fear of humiliation

= An Awesome Weekend in Southern Missouri


Monday, June 27, 2011

Road Trippin' USA

View of the Chicago River
Just when the weather is starting to get hot in Chicago, I'm making plans to leave.  After spending the last 6 weeks here, I am now starting to look ahead to my plans to travel around my own country.  One week from Thursday, I'll be packing up my car again, this time I'll be traveling with my sister for part of my trip. (It seems each of my immediate family members has made it into my travel plans this year.) 

My trip will start and end in Chicago and I will fit in as many people and places as I possibly can in the 6 weeks in between. This trip will be very different from my other travels since I'll be spending so much time visiting people, but I already have some fun plans and places on the agenda, and I'm armed once again with a Lonely Planet to help get me to the places I may not have seen before. The travel bug is biting once again...

Books to be thankful for:
- Game of Thrones novels (I breezed through the first 3 and am now on the 4th), even better than the new HBO series
- The Hunger Games trilogy (I read this entire trilogy in just a few days) Love it!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Home, Sweet Home

Kansas City airport
Well, I made it home.  After radio silence through Communist China (I didn't have access to Facebook or Blogger), I've arrived in the States and started my adjustment back to life in America.  My Mom and I flew into Kansas City last Thursday and after a long day on the plane (longest Cinco de Mayo of my life) we landed at MCI under a double rainbow...literally we came in after a storm and were treated to a couple rainbows and a beautiful sunset.  It was a nice way to come home.

The Great Wall
China was an incredible country.  More progressive than the rest of Asia it was a bit easier for me to adjust, however, fewer people spoke English in China than in any of the others countries we visited.  We worked our way north from Guilin to Xi'an to Beijing, stopping to visit the major sites along the way.  We ended our trip at the Great Wall of China outside of Beijing.  It really is an amazing wall.

Now I'm on my way up to Chicago, stopping to visit people along the way.  I'll need to do some temp work and save some money to more of the United States.  I hope to spend the second half of the summer visiting people I haven't seen in awhile and enjoying my own country.  I look forward to my potential travels and the idea of finding a new job (which sounds daunting) is actually a bit exciting too. I can still feel the pull of New Zealand and there is actually a bit of homesickness as I am reminded of different things throughout my day.  But I suppose my life of "Living Like a Kiwi" has ended...or maybe it's just beginning....

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Good Morning Vietnam!

After so many night trains I've had several opportunities to see Vietnam in the early morning.  The last few we were in Sapa, which is up in the mountains of Northern Vietnam (near the Chinese border).  The rice fields and mountains were amazing.  The first morning we arrived it was very foggy and unfortunately it didn't clear much as the day went on.  However, it didn't detract from the scenery, in fact it may have actually added to it's magical feel.  We weren't here in time for the rice planting or harvesting but the fields were filled with water in preparation.  Next month the fields will be planted with their only crop of rice for the year.  The families will depend on it to survive over the next 12 months.

It was incredible to see how the communities lived and interacted with the tourists that were everywhere.  This is the first area we've visited where the communities and culture still seemed to be similar to the way it's always been, with the exception of the little tribal ladies that doubled the size of our trekking group.  They followed us on our 10km walk so that they could offer us their wares at the end.  It was difficult to say "no" after you have bonded with them all day.  (Well, hard to say no if you aren't a cold-hearted person without any money like me).

Mom and "Black Shadow" with the gift
On the train ride back from Sapa we were in a berth with two men from China (one was from an area near Tibet and the other was Mongolian).  They were both in Sapa as part of a Unicef program for minority Chinese.  They were lovely people and the man from the Tibetan area was apparently known for a few movies as well as for his calligraphy and art.  After a short discussion he offered us a gift of a book on himself and his work as well as a piece of his artwork.  It's so nice when the simplest gifts are the ones that mean the most at the end of the trip.  It also made the snoring that night from the Mongolian man a bit easier to take (it was so loud that I could still hear it through my earplugs and over the sound of the train - I slept very little).

We are in Hanoi today and then we take another night train into China tonight.  I'm hoping we have quieter companions this time.  As we prepare for the trip I'm starting to realize all of the changes that I will have to adjust to when we leave Vietnam.  For instance, I don't expect to be able to access my google account or Facebook and I'm not sure if I will have access to my blog or Skype either.  It could be an interesting visit.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Taste of the High Life

I've just finished a 2 night/3 day cruise on Halong Bay and between this and Hoi An, I'm getting a bit spoiled in Asia (of course there are always things to bring me back to reality).

Enjoying China Beach, Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam sits just south of the DMZ in Vietnam and near Danang.  The small French influenced city has become quite the tourist spot particularly for their tailors.  Each street in the village center is lined with tailors and shoe shops galore, in fact it was harder to find a place to eat than find a place to have clothes or shoes custom made.

With only two nights planned for Hoi An, and full backpacks, we weren't going to have anything made...or at least that was the plan.  But the shops are just too tempting and the fabrics and designs just too alluring. I've never had anything made for me personally and I've always found it nearly impossible to find dresses.  The seeds started sprouting in my mind.  My mom decided to have "just a look" at some of the options in their catalogue.  Pretty soon we were shopping at every tailor for the right combination of price, fabric and design capabilities.  For two people that hadn't planned on getting anything done we were failing miserably.

Mom getting measured
And once we found a place we liked (we walked all over and then settled on the one in our own hotel), my mom's order kept expanding.  Even as she was getting measured she was debating a pair of pants (which became two when she tried on the finished product the following day).  In the end my mom had two pairs of pants, two skirts, two blouses and a pair of shoes made for her.  I had three dresses made for me.  It was so much fun it's probably best that we didn't plan more time in Hoi An.

We arrived in Hanoi the following day (after another night train), and immediately booked our trips in the area.  A 3 day/2 night trip to Halong Bay, a 3 night/2 day trip to Sapa in the mountains, and our overnight train to China.  We've just returned from the first trip to Halong Bay and our spoiling continued.  The scenery was gorgeous and it only rained a bit while we were kayaking into lagoons and wet anyway so the weather was just about right. 

Marguerite, our Junk Boat
The junk boat that we were put on was on it's maiden voyage so we could still smell the lacquer on the wood.  Everything was beautiful.  There were 8 of us on a boat that slept 15, which meant we had lots of space too.  The only downside came when we had to switch boats after the first night so our boat could go back and get licensed.  It meant spending the day with four of us cramped onto a small boat with some semblance of a sundeck (but the motor had to be cranked by hand to start it).  Our tour guide was great and very knowledgeable about the area and Vietnam customs and beliefs.  We booked with ODC Travel and I would definitely recommend them to anyone else interested in going.  It was a wonderful way to spend a few relaxing nights in Vietnam.

Looking into our room

View of Halong Bay at sunset

Only a few weeks left now before I return home.  If I'm honest, I'm as apprehensive as excited about it ending.  I spent most of my time on the boat desperately trying to work out how I'm going to spend the next few months (of course I was also determining just what food I want most when I get back).