There are more than 17,000 islands in the country of Indonesia. In total, we were able to visit just 9 of them, but each provided us with new adventure. From the architecture on Java, to the volcanoes of Sumatra, each area of the country was different and interesting in its own way.
Though many people travel to Indonesia for a particularly beautiful island called Bali, our last 10 days in Indonesia were split up between 3 lesser known islands: Flores, Gili Trawangan and Lombok. Here’s a little about each.
Our time in Flores was short, but it served a very important purpose: it where we flew in to see Komodo National Park. Although there is more to see on the island than just Labuan Bajo, it’s all we had time for. We spent the day before and the day after our trip cruising around LB and the surrounding area, enjoying the scenery and sunsets.
One of the two sunsets we saw there
Flores island from the top of a hill
The island is very lush and not as developed as many other areas of Indonesia.
We rented a motorbike while we were there so we could make the most of the short time we had. There are several great places to see sunsets, so we definitely did our best to check them out. I’m glad we did.
We also spent Valentines day cruising around the countryside. I can’t say the day was particularly eventful, but we met some very nice people and ate some beautiful and fresh avocados while we waited for a monsoon to pass.
I also made friends when I offered to take a picture for these nice people
A little pit stop
Our next stop was Lombok, though the first time we were on this island, it was just to transfer to Gili. Unlike Flores, which was primarily Christian (we actually saw people leaving church on Ash Wednesday while we were there), Lombok is predominantly Muslim. When we took a daytrip onto the island, we drove out to see this beautiful mosque in Mataram city.
We weren’t dressed appropriately enough to visit, but we still wanted to see this beautiful building in person
It is so grand compared to the rest of the city
Other than our trip to the mosque, we spent the day driving around, picking up final souvenirs for people back home and then had back to Gili island, where we were actually staying. It was a nice day trip to break up the week of relaxation we were enjoying on Gili T.
The road we drove along was mostly shaded too, so that was nice!
Of course, the ferry to and from Gili was quite the experience!
Of course, we did have to go back one more time, because we flew back to Shanghai (via Malaysia) from Lombok airport. Our final moments in Indonesia were spent on that pretty little island.
The nice people at the post office
The last picture I took in Indonesia. A storm coming in over a rice field
Of the 3 Gili Islands, Gili T is the most popular and busy. We chose this island because we thought there would be more to do there, and although our goal for Gili T was to relax….we knew we’d get stir crazy before long.
Gili has very famous parties. We didn’t attend any ourselves, but it still looked like fine
Lots of live music was there to enjoy
We did enjoy some sangria with dinner one night!
Like on most islands, seafood was abundant
our meal at Egoiste was very memorable!
We did a few things on Gili T, like silver making, and our trip to Lombok, but mostly, we just relaxed. We stayed at a beautiful little hotel called Marigio, which is owned by an Italian woman named Alessandra. Her hotel was impecably clean and each day we ate an incredible Italian breakfast. I spent a lot of time by that pool, working on my tan, finishing several books, and catching up on my journal.
Of course, sunsets on the Gili Islands are world famous. There are a series of swings set up around the island where tourists can get pictures. Dave and I aren’t big into selfies, but I loved the way the swings looked in the fading light.
There were other props set up as well
My favourite swing. I was lucky to get this shot before someone else went and sat on it
A swing to show couples in love…..
The night market was also a pretty cool experience. It was packed with people (a good sign) and all the vendors seemed to make a lot of the same stuff, but we could have probably eaten there every night we stayed on the island and tried something new each day. The selection was great, and from what we saw, it was pretty clean!
The night bbq had an array of salads, seafood and other dishes to enjoy
And of course, ice cold Bintang (and beer…and coconuts, which are my favourite!!)
My favourite experience on Gili T however, was not the sunsets or the food. My favourite moments spent on Gili were spent in the ocean, ‘stalking’ sea turtles. There is a sanctuary on Gili T and the turtles are protected in this part of the country. So, if you are patient, you can often find these giant creatures chewing on seagrass near the beach of Gili T.
Pictures can’t do these beauties justice…
This little guy was in the sanctuary on Gili T.
Sea turtles are very endangered at the moment, so sanctuaries and protected zones like this are extremely important to the ocean’s health. After all, sea turtles keep reefs healthy and are an important part of the ocean eco system!
Dave even got this really cool video where you can see how close we were and how big this guy was! We watched him for close to an hour. What amazed me most was how he could stay underwater for so long without air!
So, this is how we spent our last 10 days in Indonesia. We saw some beautiful sunsets, enjoyed some great food and had fun with local wild life. I can’t think of a better way to finish a holiday!
I’ll be back soon with an overview of our experience in Indonesia, as well as tips for anyone looking to travel there soon!
After leaving Jogjakarta, we flew to the city of Labuan Bajo. We already knew we wanted to see Manta Rays in Indonesia, if possible, but when we learned that they can be found in Komodo National Park, there was no doubt we were going to visit this area of the country.
About Komodo National Park
Komodo National Park is more than 1,700km square and consists of 3 major islands as well as many smaller ones. It was founded in 1980 to help protect the very rare Komodo Dragon, but since then has become a protected zone for many other animals as well. Roughly 4,000 people live in the park, and many of them work in the tourism industry.
The park itself is pretty undeveloped and Dave and I were both pretty disappointed that more of the very high entrance fees weren’t used to keep the parks looking a bit nicer, but I wouldn’t say our visit was a waste of money…and it definitely was worth the trip to this area of Indonesia.
The dragons are what bring most people to Komodo, and they’re quite the sight to see! I can’t say I have a lot of love for them, but definitely respected them enough to keep a safe distance.
They’re clearly fed by locals because as soon as you arrive on Komodo Island, you see them all huddled around the restaurant where locals eat.
We saw plenty of other dragons along the way, and we learned about some of their rather nasty habits. Did you know Komodo Dragons spend their first few years living up in trees? They need to hide from other Dragons because these giant lizards are cannibalistic. They’re also terrible mothers, and do nothing to care for their young after they hatch.
As I’ve been researching for this blog, I’ve been learning more about these animals and sadly, I’m seeing that at least some of the information provided at the park was false. We were told multiple times that what kills animals from Komodo bites is the various types of bacteria in their mouths. Scientists recently discovered though, that a dragon’s mouth is no dirtier than any other animal’s. What kills their prey is a venom that they release when they bite.
This is actually why I enjoy when there is posted information available at parks and animal reserves. We had the same thing happen in India, and I’ve learned to fact check things before posting them in my blog. Apparently, you can’t trust everything local guides tell you about the animals native to their countries!
Rinca and Komodo were virtually identical in most ways. Both islands had dragons…and both islands were incredibly hot. We were marched around by guides who told us about the flora and fauna in the area (sorta…). We saw 1 massive buffalo, but the guide chased it away before most of our group even knew it was there. We also saw deer, birds and even some monkeys. I was already suffering from some heat exhaustion, so I only took 2 or 3 photos on Rinca, which is pretty regrettable. It was definitely the nicer of the two islands.
There wasn’t a whole lot of shade on Komodo Island either…and given that it was well over 40 degrees celcius, that was a problem for me….
Heat exhaustion began early…
Some of our group, walking ahead
Padar Island was actually our second stop (Komodo Island was #1 and Rinca was #3). We arrived on the island shortly before sunset. Now, I should add that nothing was really explained beforehand on this tour…we would just arrive and do things. Any time I asked what was next, our guide would tease me for ‘worrying too much’. So, when we arrived on the beach of this little island, I figured we’d be spending some time watching the sun set from the pink sand. As it turns out, we were climbing a small mountain…
The island from far away
The trail….beautiful, I know
Dave giving me an opportunity to rest
Now, I should also explain why this small hill was a big deal for me. I mean…I did a much harder climb than this in Kuala Lumpur and our Jungle Trek was WAY more intense. The problem was, at this point, I was suffering from pretty bad heat exhaustion. I was having a hard time catching my breath and I was completely and totally exhausted. If our guide had told us we’d be climbing, I probably would have stayed in the boat. So, I guess it’s lucky I didn’t know what to expect because….
It was absolutely stunning
Each part of the sunset offered new beautu
When we arrived at the peak, we sat around, sipping beer and cold water, and chatting about life in Indonesia. Before we knew it, the sun had set and we had to climb down the ‘mountain’ in the dark. We all used our cell phones to light the way and it was probably pretty dangerous, as the path wasn’t really much of a path. But…at least it wasn’t all done in the sun!
One of my favourite pictures of the whole trip
Dave chatting with Archer, our French tour guide
Our Indonesian guides, along with a fellow tourist.
Time In The Water
Dave and I were both really excited about snorkeling in Komodo National Park because we’d heard that it’s home to so many sea animals and beautiful coral reefs. The rumours were true, and it was a beautiful place to both dive and snorkel, but what I didn’t know was that about 30% of the sea life in Komodo National Park seem to be jelly fish!! If I didn’t get stung 50 times, I didn’t get stung at all!!!
A boat similar to the one we were on
Full speed ahead!
I was so hopeful at the beginning of this trip…
The snorkeling was good, but as my heat exhaustion worsened, my tolerance for jellyfish lessened. Soon, I made the decision to stay out of the water until there was something REALLY interesting to see.
I didn’t want to be a total party pooper, so I did go out into a tiny boat to check out some mangroves and look for some salt water crocodiles. We did find mangroves…but no crocs were to be found
After spending most of the day on the boat, I was happy to get out a little bit though!
Of course, the real reason we were in the area wasn’t for the dragons, or even for Padar Island (we had no idea it was going to be that beautiful!). The real pull for us was the chance to see Manta Rays.
And of course, our trips aren’t complete unless Dave has had a chance to do some diving!
Manta Rays are intelligent and curious and we heard from many people that swimming with them is quite the experience! They’re huge, gentle and majestic and I was very much looking forward to seeing the giants in person. This was actually at the top of Dave’s bucket list too, so it was important to me because it was important to him.
Of course, things didn’t turn out the way I’d wanted. I woke up the day of our trip to Manta Point and ended up fainting in the shower….twice. I was so sick from the heat that if the sun touched my skin for even a moment, I became too dizzy to stand. So, while Dave and everyone else went swimming with the mantas…I sipped Sprite under the comfort of my over-sized hat, and tried not to throw up….
Dave was never lucky enough to see them while diving, but he did see them while snorkeling.
I had plans to do a discover dive, and if I’d have been feeling better, I would have seen these guys while I was down there. Instead I was curled up in my bed.
I was lucky enough to see 1 Manta right near the front of the boat. It came up to the surface and I was able to watch it from the safety of shade. Mostly, I’m just happy Dave got to see them, because it is truly an incredible experience.
So, I didn’t quite have the experience I’d hoped for in Komodo National Park. I hope to go back some day, to see the sea life and maybe do that discovery dive. Until then, I’ll just have to hang onto the memory of that 1 kind Manta who swam along the surface so that I could admire it’s graceful beauty.
Check back soon! This won’t be my last post of the week!
One of the best things about living in China is the high speed train. Dave and I have no interest in buying a car in China, so the high speed train is how we get from city to city, when we need a break from Suzhou.
This year, we’ve taken a record number of weekend trips that I thought might be worth writing about.
Cirque du Soleil
My hatred of Shanghai city has never been a secret, but I’ve recently grown to appreciate this metropolis, regardless of its overpopulation and pollution…
The event that began this new understanding of Shanghai was none other than a Cirque Du Soleil show. Dave and I have seen 6 shows total now, so when we found out that Kooza would be playing in old Pudong…we booked tickets with our friends Kim and CJ.
Shanghai doesn’t get as many big shows as I wish it did (mainly because a lot of bands and musicians are banned in China), but now and then, they get a good one. Linkin Park played Shanghai a few years ago, before Chester Bennington’s death. Unfortunately, the concert took place while I was visiting family in Canada, which meant I missed my last opportunity to see one of my favourite bands perform.
Couldn’t pay me to see….
Don’t really care to see…
Christmas with Friends
We’ve taken a couple of trips to Hangzhou this year as well. Located about 2 hours away by high speed train, Hangzhou is a beautiful city. It was recently the location of a G20 Summit, and is home to West Lake, which is both scenic and huge. Hangzhou is the capital of Zhezhang province, Jiangsu’s neighbour to the south.
Christmas with Friends
A beautiful place to take a walk
More importantly, Hangzhou is home to two of my favourite people in the world! So, Dave and I, along with our friend Kevin, made our way down to Hangzhou for Christmas this year. We enjoyed some excellent meals, a nice walk around West Lake, and time with good friends. It was well worth the weekend trip!
Feeling ‘Christmasy’ at Eudora…a lovely restaurant in Hangzhou
On the train
A purple wreath
We had dinner at a very interesting place. The menu had some translation problems…
Weddings in Hangzhou
A few months later, we found ourselves back in Hangzhou for Deb and Dedrick’s wedding! We had another lovely trip in, and this time, we got to spend the weekend with our good friends Mark and Deb. Mark and I play in The Sundaze together, and it was good to get out and cut loose in a new city with them. And of course, my dear Kevin was there as well!
Back at Eudora
The adorable Deb and I
Mark, being himself
Midnight snack stop on our way home from drinks at Eudora
The longer you stay in China, the more people you meet. Deb and Dedrick’s wedding was a really cool experience because there were people from everywhere there. It was a beautiful mixture of North American and Argentinian culture, with guests from all over the world.
Dressed up for the wedding
A beautiful vegetarian wedding dinner
These were so darn good!
A beautiful dress designed by the bride
Friends travelled from France and Mexico to be there for the wedding
Moroccan food in Tianzefang
Finally, Shanghai itself can be an awesome little getaway. When Dave and I went to Taiwan in April, we opted to spend the night in Shanghai before flying out the next morning to Taipei (Suzhou doesn’t have an airport). We asked around for food recommendation, and my friend Andy told me of a good Moroccan place in an area of Shanghai called Tianzefang.
Such a great restaurant! Can’t wait to go back!!!
Pear and chicken breast….
figs and lamb shank
Morrocan friend rice
Tianzifang is lovely! It’s a vibrant and interesting area that doesn’t feel at all like the Pudong I grew to hate. It’s full of bars, unique shops and great international food options.
Dave and I, enjoying a walk home
Some strange signs
This cat doesn’t move….these two pictures were taken a month apart lol
A month or so later, Dave and I actually made a special trip to Shanghai just to have another meal at Andelus, the Moroccan restaurant Andy recommended. The following morning, we visited the very famous ” Lao Wai Park“.
Shanghai’s Lao Wai (foreigner) Park, is an are of restaurants and bars that are very popular among expats. The comedy group Mamahuhu did a series of videos there. Dave and I had an amazing lunch at a little Vietnamese restaurant. I can’t wait til we can visit again!
We also wandered around Shanghai for a bit during our last trip in. We saw the largest Starbucks in the world while we were there. There was a massive lineup, so we didn’t go in, but I did take some pictures.
In it’s first 8 weeks, this 30,000 square foot Starbucks roastery made more than $60,000 every DAY
The lineups were ridiculous and we didn’t want to wait in the heat, so we didn’t go inside
But I DID sneak some pictures from the outside!
There are so many more nearby places we want to visit before we leave China. We have friends in Nanjing that we really want to go visit. We also want to see Yellow Mountain, and of course we’d love to see more of Shanghai and Hangzhou. The high speed train gives us so many opportunities for travel. Now, to make the time!
I’ll be writing lots over the next week, trying to catch up on all my Indonesia posts before we head to The Philippines!
Being an English teacher has its challenges, but one of the biggest perks I have as a language teacher is that I can teach my lessons through a variety of lenses. If I’m teaching about conditional voice, for example, I can have the students talk about which super powers they wish they had, or about regrets they have from the past.
This year, I chose to teach my grade 9 students English through a lens I think everyone should consider: “Critical Thinking in Social Media”. I introduced them to Snopes, discussed the power (and danger) of memes and we talked about subjects ranging from gun control in the United States to South Korean fan superstitions. My hope was that I’d teach them how to be considerate and intelligent Netizens, but I probably learned nearly as much as they did.
Our class discussions about the dangers of Social Media really got me thinking. We discussed the idea that people rarely write about bad things that are happening in their lives, but instead tend to focus on the positive, making their lives look more glamorous and perfect that they really are. In of itself, this isn’t a problem, but when others see those happy posts, they start to compare their own lives with the (perfect) lives that others present to the cyber world.
Elephants in Thailand
Ziplining in Laos
Cruising down the Mekong River looking for Irawaddy Dolphins
Sunsets on the Great Wall
Sunsets in Phu Quoc….if all you see are these…it seems like my life is a breeze!
I try not to do this, but, of course, it can be difficult. I haven’t been feeling particularly positive lately, so I thought this would be a good time to write about the negative aspects of living as an expat. *Spoiler…it’s awesome…but like everything, it has its downsides*
June is a hard month for a lot of reasons. It’s the end of the school year, which is stressful for all teachers. Between grading, report cards and final tests, teachers across the planet are barely holding it together every June. When you’re an expat teacher, you have to also consider the stress of booking flights home, finding cat sitters, and spending 6 weeks living out of suitcases. It’s stressful.
Not to mention the nightmare of travelling…
And the fact that I have to go to an airport that has SIM card vending machines every few meters, but bottled water is hidden away
And then there’s the train station…. Have I mentioned we do all this with luggage???
That’s not to say that I’d give up my trip home to avoid these stresses…but it is something a lot of people don’t think about when they think of what it’s like teaching abroad. Other things include…
Saying Goodbye to Students
One event was particularly emotional for me this month. My grade 9 students have been with me since my very first day at SFLS, and in September, they will be moving onto high school. Many of them will be moving abroad as well, so it’s not as though I’ll be seeing many of them again. Their graduation was last Friday and although I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry (I even refused to bring tissue in an attempt to not even give myself the option), I ended up red in the face and tearier than I would like to admit. When you love teaching…it’s easy to become attached to the kids you see every day for 3 years.
Victor and I with Wendy. I was happy I could put my hands in front of my face because I’d started crying a few moments before and simply couldn’t stop
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
This is Angel. She’s the reason I was crying. She came up and gave me a hug and whipered ‘thank you’ in my ear and I just couldn’t stop. As a teacher, you pour yourself into your students. You spend all your free time grading their work and helping them on Wechat. You spend you life getting them ready for exams and making sure that they’re getting the best education you can provide. Unfortunately, teaching teenagers can be pretty thankless. They often forget about their foreign teachers because we aren’t as important at the school as the Chinese staff. It’s amazing what one quiet “Thank You” can make you feel. Also…I know teachers aren’t suppose to have favourites…but Angel is one of my favourite students ever. She’s kind and intelligent as she is beautiful.
Michael and I at the Drama Festival. I’m still waiting for him to send me the photos of us at grad, although he made me cry too. He has popped up in many of my blog posts and will always have a special place in my heart.
Ken, back when he was in 7th grade
He’s taller than me now…but still one of the coolest kids I’ve ever known. He’ll be moving to Hawaii over the summer. He was accepted in the a school there. I’m insanely jealous.
Still, I wish them all the best, and although it sucks to see them go, I have new students coming in next September, and they will provide new challenges and rewards for me and all their other teachers.
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
Kate looked beautiful in her graduation dress. She reminds me so much of what I was like at that age…kind of sarcastic…very dramatic…but as passionate as they come.
With the students at this year’s spelling bee
Final class photos
The friendships you form while living abroad are also a very important part of the expat life. I’ve made friends from all over the world, and although we’re all very different people with very different backgrounds, there is one thing we all have in common: we don’t really belong anywhere.
When you’re away from home, having a good group of friends becomes increasingly important. They’re who you spend Christmas with and they’re who help you through troubled times. Most importantly, they’re the ones who understand you, because as much as people back home can try and empathize, they only really see the really good and really bad parts of being an expat…none of the ‘in-between-everday-stuff’.
When a student of mine committed suicide in January, it was Kim and CJ who helped me through. Kim has been a teacher for years, and she understands the pressure Chinese students deal with. It’s pressure different from anything western students experience
These people have helped us both through a whole lot of crappy days, crappy months and crappy moments.
Mike also helped me through Pony’s death. He and I spend quite a lot of time brainstorming ways to make sure our students know we are there for them. Pony was his student as well, and I think that if I hadn’t had someone to talk to about how we could prevent this from happening again…it would have been even harder to get through it.
Dave and I are far more outgoing and far more adventurous abroad than we ever were back home, and our social life is pretty awesome. We spend lots of time going out for dinner, going to KTV, going to Salsa parties, and of course, I have my band. All these things are done with friends…and 99% of my friends are currently expats, or people who were previously expats, but have moved back home to China.
Cheetar (USA_, Myself and Tythus (Malaysia). They both work in the highschool. Cheetar and I have been working together for 3 years. He is leaving to move to a different part of China this summer. I’m going to miss seeing him around the school.
Dedrick, Mark and I….We are the Sundaze! Dedrick moved to Hangzhou last summer…it’s only an hour away, and I still get to see him often, but it’s sucked not having him around. Luckily, he’s moving back to Suzhou in September!! Mark and I are planning to leave Suzhou at the same time. I’m working on convincing him and his wife to join us in Vietnam. Fingers crossed!
Katie, Kevin, Dave and I last year at Dave’s Birthday. I just learned that Katie is moving back to Suzhou after finishing her Master’s degree in England. It’ll be great to have her back!
Jeff…the very first friend i made in Suzhou. When he found out a new Canadian was going to be working at SFLS, he emailed me to welcome me to the team. I felt more welcomed in Suzhou before I even moved there, than I did my whole time in Guiyang
Liz. One of my longest friendships in Suzhou
Adam is also one of my oldest Suzhou friends. We only worked together for a year before he moved to a different school, but we’ve stayed friends even though he’s across the city. His girlfriend, Tracy, lives in our building, so we get to see her often
Kevin is one of my best friends in the world. He moved away last week. I miss him more than I really want to think about
You make friends at school too, of course. Sam is the giant on the far left. He teaches economics with me in IGCSE. Crystal is the Chinese teacher and she is also my cleaning buddy in the office! And Victor is one of my bffs. We’ve worked together for 2 years at SFLS. He’s from Nigeria and he’s a fantastic human being
Linda and Paul are Taiwanese. We became friends over the past 3 years because Linda’s parents own a restaurant we like
Miya. One of the most beautiful people on the planet. She moved away for a year to live in New Zealand. It sucked.
Michael and Dave. Michael is a Kiwi who lived in Suzhou for our first 2 years. I still find myself missing him although he moved back to New Zealand more than a year ago now.
We are losing Shane on Saturday. He’s moving back to Australia. He’ll be missed a lot. Other than Dave, he’s our best groupie!
Of course…when you are a nomad and surround yourself with other nomads…people enter and leave your life regularly. It’s difficult because I understand it…but I hate it. I also hate that soon I’ll be the one leaving people behind. Already, I find myself wondering if I’ll ever find friends as good as the ones I have in Suzhou…
Occasionally, you get to see your expat friends again….
We were lucky to have 2 friends visit us this year. Joan and Lexie both visited us in the fall
And sometimes, people even move back…like Miya. this was us the day she came back to Suzhou. I look only about half as excited as I actually was!!
The ‘Home Dilemma’
Home becomes a really weird concept when you live abroad. I like to say that ‘Home is where my cats are’, but in reality, I spend 3 months away from them every year. I’d like to say that ‘Home is where you grew up’, but nobody in my family even lives in that tiny Manitoba town, so how can that really be home? Steinbach never really felt like home for me, because I was too different from the local people. Oddly enough, in some ways, Suzhou has been feeling more like home than anywhere I’ve ever been. I’ve become a part of the community, through music, foodie groups and through school.
My band has turned me into a more social and charismatic person. Playing with these guys is easily one of the funnest things I’ve ever done in my life
Whether we’re playing in dingy bars
Or at music festivals
We always have a blast!
I think that living abroad changes you in that way. Home isn’t as easily defined when you don’t ever quite fit in. In China, I’m a minority. I’m only one of a few thousand expats in a city of 8 million people. Back home, it’s the same. I’ve had such a different 4 years than most of my friends and family. It’s difficult to explain your feelings about things when the people in your life see the world differently than you do. It’s especially noticeable when talking about world politics or world events with people back in Canada. It’s easy to talk about India’s poverty or an earthquake in Indonesia when you see it as some far off place, separate from you. But when you can picture the smells and sounds of a place….when you’ve been there and it’s personal…you see those events very differently.
What makes it especially hard is that we’ve never had any family or friends visit us here in China. I know that it isn’t in everyone’s budget, and there are a thousand reasons why people can’t just hop on a plane and visit, but regardless of those reasons…it makes ‘home’ a difficult subject. At the end of the day, China is currently our home, but the people we know and love back in Canada have no idea what our life is like in the place we call home.
And that’s why I hound my family save up and come visit us…it’s not because I want to show them the sites or because I think China is the most beautiful place on earth….it’s because I want them to understand me. I people back home to understand what life is like in the city I currently call home.
Always Missing Somewhere or Someone
And of course there’s the obvious reason it’s hard being an expat is all the stuff you leave behind at the end of the summer. It’s great having stories to tell your family and friends…but I really do wish I had the power of teleportation. Then, I wouldn’t need to miss everyone so much.
I always laugh because when I’m in China, I call Canada Home…and when I’m in Canada, I call China home
There’s so much I miss about Winnipeg. Going to concerts is definitely one
I miss lakes and trees….and quiet.
I miss these wonderful people most of all!
It isn’t All Bad
Of course, it isn’t nearly all bad. June is probably my least favourite month of the year. It’s difficult saying goodbye to students. It’s difficult saying goodbye to friends. Add that to the fact that it’s exam season and end of term…and I can’t believe it’s taken me 4 years to write this post.
Still, there are a thousand things that being an expat allows us to do. It sucks saying goodbye to friends…but it’s great meeting so many new people all the time. It sucks only seeing our family and Canadian friends once a year, but we always have so many stories to tell them! And being an Expat gives us so many opportunities that we’d never have back in Canada. My band wouldn’t get nearly as many gigs if we weren’t ‘interesting foreigners’. Of course, we could never afford to travel this much if we didn’t live in China. And with Dave working from home, we were able to foster little Oscar. Here are some pictures of Oscar to remind you of all the reasons I love being an expat!
Stay tuned! I’ve got half a dozen more posts coming in the next month or so!!
He was found in the bushes right outside my school
He was mostly blind when we found him. Within our first week with him he started following movements
He was such a princely little cat!
What a flirt!
If Dave didn’t work at home, we never would have been able to give him the care he needed
These are the lovely women who adopted our little foster kitty
After an incredible week in Sumatra, we carried onto the next leg of our journey; Java Island. Many people choose to visit the capital, but we’d heard that there wasn’t much to do in Jakarta, and that it was crowded and polluted, so we opted to stay away. Instead, we zipped over to Yogyakarta (which is mostly referred to as ‘Jogja’ in Indonesia).
We arrived late at night, and although the airport was crawling with cab drivers trying to take foreigners for a ride (in the figurative sense), we quickly found a company who was giving legit pricing, and we were on our way to our tiny little Bed and Breakfast in downtown Jogja.
The World’s cutest and most polite bed and breakfast, I might add!!!
The absolute cutest
They even provided mosquito nets for us….we never saw any mosquitos either, which was nice
There was a chalk board on the wall. The owners are artists.
I loved the bathroom
If you don’t mind simple accomodations, but want a REALLY athentic and sweet experience in Jogja, stay with these guys! I’ll share the link at the end of my post
There were 2 reasons we wanted to visit this Yogyakarta: Borobudur and Prambanan. These two beautiful temples are very different from one another. One is Buddhist and the other is Hindu. They don’t really share much in terms of architecture, but they are both located about an hour outside of Jogja (in different directions), making this small city a popular destination for tourists going through Java.
We decided to hit Prambanan first, as it was a little closer to Jogja, and we had begun our day a little later than we’d intended. It was a nice hour-long drive to the temple, that gave us a chance to see a bit of this lovely little city.
We were a bit taken aback by the entrance fees to the temple, but we figured it would probably be the only chance we’d ever have to see Prambanan and Borobudur, so we bit the bullet, as they say, and forked over the $80 it cost to get us both into both temples. Of course, once we were inside, I ceased to worry about the pricing, because the money is clearly being put to good use.
The grounds were very well maintained and green
The area was very peaceful. It didn’t feel anywhere near a big city
They had music playing over loudspeakers that gave the whole place a dream like feel
Neat garbage cans
Before even entering temple grounds, we saw an incredible photo opportunity. There was a section of rubble in front of one area of the temple, where tourists were able to take photos. It took us a few tries, but we finally got a couple of good shots ourselves (we were using a timer…10 seconds is not enough time for me to scramble on top of rocks!)
Prambanan in 2018
Once entering the temple, we were impressed by the level of detail on the walls, and were very quickly reminded of our time at Ankor National Park in Cambodia. There were clear similarities between Prambanan’s and Ankor Wat’s architecture, so it didn’t surprise me to learn that Prambanan, like Ankor Wat, is a Hindu temple.
Prambanan in 2018
Ankor Wat in 2015
We spent a few hours walking around, admiring the temple. There were many other tourists there, but they were mostly from Indonesia, as we visited during the off season (something I highly recommend…as long as you aren’t too afraid of a bit of rain).
Many women in Indonesia wear Hihabs. I loved the way these ladies contrasted with the beautiful stone behind them
There were many smaller buildings on the grounds as well. They were equally beautiful, and you could even walk inside some of them.
The level of detail was astounding
The park was quite big, and we wandered around to check out some of the smaller and less glamorous buildings. The park’s general upkeep really impressed us both.
Reconstruction and upkeep are essential for sites as old as Prambanan.
Drones are forbidden. I applaud that initiative. There’s nothing worse than having one of those things flying over your head while you’re sight seeing. It’s becoming unbelievably common to have that happen in this part of the world
An older and more run down building. I thought it was gorgeous, but we couldn’t get any closer to it than this
The stone carvings at Prambanan were really something to admire. If it hadn’t been so hot out, we probably could have spent an hour or two longer walking around, just admiring the architecture. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the heat became too much and we were forced to hop on our rented motorcycle and head back to Jogja.
The Hindu god, Ganesh.
Borobudur was my main reason for wanting to go to Jogjakarta. Built at around the same time as Prambanan, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. The architecture there is very different from the many Hindu and Chinese Buddhist temples we’ve seen over the last few years.
Borobudur was built in the shape of a Mandala, which represents Nirvana, or Heaven in both Buddhism and Hinduism. There are 9 levels in total, which include more than 2500 relief panels (art depicting Buddhist stories) and 72 Buddhas.
A traditional Hindu and Buddhist Mandala
The shape of Borobudur from the air
Borobudur has many levels
Images like this are carved into the sides of every wall
Borobudur Temple in Indonesia-Aerial view of the temple
Every inch of every wall at Borobodur is covered in carvings that depict a mixture of Buddhist and Indonesian stories and myths. We walked around a good portion of it, but it would have taken hours to study really examine all of the carvings.
A lot of Borobudur’s history is unknown, but what we do know is that it took about 75 years to build, and at some time around the turn of the 1st millenium, it was abandoned. There could have been several reasons for this, but the two most likely are that: A.) people had to leave due to the very active volcanoes nearby or B.) Indonesia began converting to Islam, and Buddhist Temples became less important. Either way, the temple was all but forgotten, and was slowly taken over by volcanic ash and jungle.
It was in rough shape when it was found. Earthquakes also plague the area
While Borobudur’s history fascinates me, it isn’t what pulls thousands of tourists to the site each year. The Bells and 72 Buddhas on the top levels of the site are what drive the tourism. Each bell has a Budha within it, and several bells have been left open so the Buddhas are exposed. It’s an incredibly photogenic place and I’m glad we had some blue skies while we were there.
On the lower levels, the bells are more simple
As you go up they become more detailed
Borobudur is one of the nicest and most interesting temples I have ever visited, but it pains me to say that its in trouble. Between the volcanic ash that plagues the building, and tourists who insist on touching everything, officials have considered closing the site to unguided tourists. While we were there we saw all sorts of bad behaviour.
This girl walked around the bell, jumping up and down off of it, for several minutes
This woman leaned in to get a better view, not realizing that the oil from her hands is very dangerous to this delicate site
We saw so much climbing…
One of these signs was actually hidden behind all the people who were sitting around it.
The worst case of this behaviour was an elderly Chinese woman, who climbed onto a bell and reached inside to try and touch the Buddha. This didn’t seem to be as much of an issue at Prambanan, where tourists were allowed to walk on certain areas of the walls. I think because of the acid in the volcanic ash that routinely covers Borobodur, the site is especially at risk.
Now, the Indonesian Government goes to great lengths to protect their biggest tourist attraction
Indonesian workers cover to protect the famed Borobudur temple from volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Kelud in Magelang, Indonesia, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. Volcanic ash from a major eruption in Indonesia shrouded a large swath of the country’s most densely populated island on Friday and closed three nearby international airports. (AP Photo/Slamet Riyadi)
In short, if you’re stopping by Java Island, definitely take the time to stop by these incredible temples.
One of the coolest parts of being an expat is all the people you meet. They come from everywhere. I’ve met chefs from Italy, chemists from New Zealand, PhD students from Turkey and of course, musicians from Portugal, The Philippines and beyond… We all come from different backgrounds and are in China for various reasons, but we all have one thing in common… We’ve all chosen Suzhou as home away from home.
Dave and I at the “Red Dress Hash”. Everyone dressed up in red dresses and fundraised for an Orphanage here in Suzhou. We saw a bit of the city, spent the evening outside walking, and had a great time!
At the beginning of this year, I decided to put myself out there more. I joined several WeChat groups in an effort to meet more people and to become part of the expat community. I started with music groups, because it was something I knew a lot about. I’ve also joined writers’ groups, travel groups and most recently, a Foodie group.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love both cooking… And eating!!!
In the Foodie Group, we all post about our favourite restaurants. Now, whenever Dave and I want to try something new, we check out places that have been recommended by fellow Foodies.
Our most recent recommendation: a Singaporean restaurant in Suzhou Center
A few months ago, I wrote about our friend, Lixia, and her restaurant that specializes in Guizhou food. Before I knew it, I was getting messages from the other Foodies, thanking me for the recommendation. Since then, this tiny Chinese restaurant has become quite popular amongst expats.
Lixia surprised Dave with a cake for his birthday last month
Lixia is easily one of the sweetest and most hard working people I know, so when I learned about a Food & Beverage competition, I got in touch with the organizers and nominated Zou Guizhou for the “Best View” award.
Her award winning view
Tonight, we went to the finals for this award, at The W hotel here in SIP. Lixia won in her category, and we were able to celebrate with her. It was a really fun night filled with good food, great wine and fabulous company.
Kevin joined us for the evening. He is the one who found Zou Guizhou for us 2 years ago
So happy to have Miya back in Suzhou!!!
Larry and Lixia have become friends too 🙂
The best part of the night was when I realized how many people I knew at the event. A year ago, I made it my mission to become part of the expat community in Suzhou… And that mission has been accomplished.
Every year, at the beginning of April, Qing Ming Festival is celebrated. Chinese people honour their ancestors and clean the tombs of the dead.
To celebrate the festival, Chinese people decorate and clean the tombs of deceased family members
Burn fake money
Eat these delicious red bean stuffed glutenous rice dumplings (I love these things!!)
I get a long weekend here in China. This works out rather well for me, because it’s usually a few days before my birthday, so Dave and I began a tradition of getting on an airplane and exploring Asia. Last year, we hopped over to Seoul for the weekend, but this year, we decided to check out Taipei; Taiwan’s capital.
Now, Taiwan is a bit of a confusing and difficult subject here in China. If you ask most people in the world, they think Taiwan is it’s own country. I mean, they have their own currency, their own government, their own passports and visa regulations….it’s easy to see why some people might get confused when China claims Taiwan as its own.
We noticed many similarities right away….nice bridges over ponds…
As far as China is concerned though, Taiwan is a province and not a country. But, like many areas of China, Taiwan has its own culture, it’s own cuisine and it’s own customs that are quite different from the mainland.
We also noticed the differences, such as the wildlife….
Seeing children feeding birds instead of chasing them….
Rules that seem to actually be enforced
Clean and smoke-free areas
Night Markets & Street Food
We have friends from Taiwan who were very excited about our trip to Taipei. Before we left, Linda gave us one very important piece of advice: “try everything”. So we did!
He slowly cooked these little balls….turning them over and over….
This was my favourite street food of the trip! They are doughy balls with squid in the middle, topped with seaweed. Delicious!
The night markets in Taipei are exciting, lively and full of interesting and tasty food to try. There’s an abundance of choices, and my biggest regret is having run out of stomach room before I could try them all!
We waited in line for ages at this one spot, but never actually got to try the wraps they were making. They were simply too popular!
Dave’s favourite street food was the ‘beef guy’, who was flame grilling chunks of beef (something we don’t eat often in China). When we asked if we could mix flavours and get cumin, salt AND pepper (instead of just one of the three) he laughed and said ‘sure!’….an uncommon occurrence in China, where people follow orders without much room for change.
We only ate in one actual restaurant during our time in the night markets, and that was mostly just for fun. “Modern Toilet” is a poop-themed restaurant with food that certainly doesn’t look like it should be eaten! The whole place was silly, but the food was alright, and it was a good laugh, so I’m glad we stopped in!
Of course, night markets aren’t ONLY about food. We also saw street performers, movie theaters and arcades, as well as all the shopping options you could ever possibly need. I appreciated the fact that you could buy popcorn without watching a movie, because salty theater popcorn isn’t a thing in China, but it is in Taiwan!!
Dave and I trying our luck at Mario Cart in an arcade
Our cultural stop in Taipei wasn’t planned, but it sure was pleasant! On our way to find another night market, we stumbled across Lungshan Temple. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Taiwan also celebrates Tomb Sweeping Festival, and Lungshan was buzzing with people offering sacrifices and praying to their ancestors. Incense was being burned in various places around the temple as well.
A man lighting his incence
There were several of these big metal incense ‘pots’ in use around the temple.
This one was my favourite
Flowers were also being placed all around the temple
This was probably the nicest temple we’ve seen ‘in China’. It was extremely well-maintained and the detail was stunning. I couldn’t take enough pictures!
We weren’t planning on a trip to the zoo, but we ended up in Taipei during a rather drab and rainy weekend, so to the zoo we went!
We were pleasantly surprised by the space the animals were allowed. They seemed to be well cared for. Unfortunately, the Asian elephants looked quite stressed out, which further convinced me that they do not belong in city zoos. Our time in Sumatra also gave me insight into how Orangutans and horn bills are suppose to live….and zoos are not it!
The orangutan made me want to cry….
The African elephants were in better spirits than the Asian ones. I couldn’t actually look at the Asian ones for more than a moment, because I didn’t want to burst into tears in public…..
This guy just looked bored…..
Primates don’t belong in zoos….no matter how good of a zoo it is!
The large building in the photo below is called ‘Taipei 101’. It was our last stop before flying back to Suzhou, and although I’m not usually all that impressed with architecture, I really liked this building!
Taipei is a gorgeous city, and the view from the 89th floor of this skyscraper is impressive, to say the least! Taipei 101’s observatory is definitely worth a visit!
There were two things that really impressed me about our trip to 101. First, it was the elevator ride to the observatory. To get from the 5th floor reception to the 89th takes only 39 seconds! The elevator moves so quickly that your ears pop on the way up! I’d been in tall buildings before, but Taipei 101 holds the record for the world’s fastest elevator!
The second thing to impress me at 101 was the Wind Damper. At first, I thought it was just a big metal ball that was hanging there for show…then Dave explained…
Wind Dampers are used to help stabilize very tall buildings from wind and seismic activity (earthquakes). It turns out that ‘big metal ball’ is quite a scientific feat! You can hear more about this from people who actually know what they’re talking about by clicking here. To Summarize
A weekend in Taipei is not NEARLY enough time to see everything the city has to offer, but it is a start! The people were incredibly friendly and helpful, the food was amazing and it was a modern, clean and beautiful city. There’s so much I have left to see and do in Taiwan, that I just KNOW I’ll be back before to long!
Those were an exciting and adventurous 30,000 steps!