Category Archives: Travel

2016 Has Ushered in… Fun and Creativity

Such fun I have been having!  And thus, I have not been good at staying in touch, sorry.

The weeks have simply zoomed by since a lovely Christmas seeing and holding my adorable great (grand?) nephew in sunny California.  Sweet, adorable, with tiny little hands and feet…Koen.


And I was so excited to give the adventure book I had written for Koen to his parents, my nephew Calvin and his great wife, Abbey.


Then a huge surprise, I was whisked away to NYC for a fabulous weekend with my sisters and mom – girls camp, as mom called it.  So much fun.


It was seriously freezing and then the wind!  But we had a ball.  We checked out the Highline (converted, old, elevated rail track into a lovely walking promenade…if it hadn’t been so windy!).  We hit the Chelsea Market, a bit of Greenwich village, uptown, midtown, soho, Ground Zero…The Whitney Museum… We survived the Blue Man Group and ended our wonderful weekend with Kinky Boots – an absolute must see if you’re in NYC – hysterically funny and so clever – Loved! It!


No idea what we were getting into – PRE – Blue Man Group


Post Blue Man – see, we survived!


Chillin’ on the Highline.


Ground Zero Memorial


Amazing Kinky Boots!

But don’t think the fun stopped when I left NYC – oh no!  🙂

Just last weekend I headed up into Utah to Canyonlands National Park for a fun, challenging trail run and great hikes.





IMG_4838 Corona Arch which was really fun to get to; climbing over big rocks, using ladders to get up impassable areas and then arriving and feeling really, really small.  If you look at the photo below, people are standing under the arch.  Its huge.



IMG_4848I loved the colors – rich oranges, reds, greens and yellows.  It was really beautiful.

IMG_4864In between all this gallivanting I have been practicing my illustration skills and continuing to write the second book in the Treasure Chest Mysteries series.  Writing this second book has proved much more challenging.  I think it is due to wanting to make it better, deeper, more robust.  I am currently working my way through the book “The Plot Whisperer Workbook” by Martha Alderson.  She is helping me understand how to build a character that has more emotion, more rise and fall and more empathy.  I hope you’ll notice the difference in the next book.

I am also exited to say that my friend Ivy Newport, through her wonderful blog, has introduced me to my next exciting online adventure: A Storyteller’s Art.   This class by Robin Laws looks like so much fun.  I can’t wait to get started on March 14th.Storyteller's Art

Oh, and then of course, I have been teaching – the day-to-day job.  It has continued to be fun, super frustrating, challenging, empowering, painful and eye-opening.  My sixth graders are still my wonderful little stars, so eager to learn, curiosity abounds, full of smiles and giggles.  My seventh graders are more moody, more tired, over-the-top fidgety and dead in their seats – Ahh the wonders of puberty!  The eighth graders are a whole other ball of anger, apathy, rolling eyes, shy smiles, loud and aggressive chatter, more touchy or afraid to be even looked at.  Every day these students walk into my classroom and I do not know what I am going to get.  On a good day, it just doesn’t get better than teaching;  Spirits are high, curiosity rules, high-level discussions, students wanting more, which translates into: I am challenged and excited to explore new avenues with them.  On a bad day, its bad.  Grumpy, won’t do anything, talking back, refuse to participate, angry at being forced to sit in a seat and learn…  I rarely get a day that is strictly one or the other.  My days are full of emotion, highs and lows, smiles and angry, teenage stares.  Teaching is amazingly exhausting, but for the most part rewarding.  I only have three months left here in Gallup, NM.  I have learned a lot about what I need in life being here.  It has been very interesting learning a small bit about the Navajo Nation and the life that many lead.  But I am a tree and green person.  I need to see diversity in color, texture and foliage.  I didn’t realize how much I needed that until I came here.  It is very monotone in color.  Beautiful in its own right, but my eye needs color and diversity.

Where to next?  Not sure yet.  I have some irons in the fire that I am pursuing.  I’ll let you know where life plans on taking me next as soon as I know.  Until next time, Happy Spring!!!



Filed under Adventure, Education, New Mexico, Photography, Travel, Writing

Lower Antelope Canyon

Its been a while, so thought I’d return with some great photos of a fun one day adventure into Arizona.  Yesterday I spent a lot of time driving, but ended up deep inside the earth winding my way through an ever-so-small passage that twisted and turned its way through a gorgeous canyon that you wouldn’t know existed if you looked from ground level.  Apparently it was originally discovered by a young Navajo girl that had lost her sheep and she had gone down searching.  What a discovery!

Can you see the canyon?  None of us could.


Here is how we descended down into Lower Antelope Canyon, just outside of Page, Arizona:


From here, our guide Kyndra, of the Navajo Nation and Ken’s Tours, expertly moved us gently along as we oohed and ahhed our way through.  She told us the best way to pick up the amazing colors our eyes were seeing, on digital film, was to shoot in a chrome setting.  My iPhone 6 picked up the colors better than my Canon Power Shot, so that is what most of these photos were taken with.  But I have to tell you, although the colors seem to be unreal – they are what my eyes, without filters, saw.  It was a stunning hour and a half.  As we descended, the colors changed from soft earth tones to more vibrant colors depending on the angle and where the sun hit the calcium in the sandstone.






IMG_4193The sandstone was full of bits pebbles and sea shells.  The undulating waves of stone had been formed from thousands of years of being below sea level and then the subsequent eons of flash floods – one of which happened just two days before I arrived.

Here is Kyndra showing how high the ground would have been (where we would have been walking) before the flash flood two days before. Glad we weren’t down there:



This is the “Chief.”



“Woman in the Wind”





It was really hard choosing photos to show you.  I took over 200!  I found myself just spinning around as every angle offered another stunning photo opportunity.  I would have loved to go again and just absorb.  I tried to often, to just stand there, but then you just don’t want to miss catching the beauty.




Walking beneath the “Chief” – you can really see the how the colors change depending on your angle.  Bright orange and red from afar, but below deep purples.



This is our path – see the sand at the bottom? This path twisted to the left. So fun.



I took a couple in black and white and they are beautiful too – but the color, I just couldn’t resist.


Here is how we climbed out (random tourist from Central Europe in photo):


From there I headed over to Horseshoe Bend – this is the very low Colorado River:


I would guess I was about 5000 feet up from the river. If you look at the small white spot center left – it is a tour boat docked by the side of the river that would have fit about 20 people.


After a wonderful 3 hours of exploring this area I headed to Flagstaff and then back to Gallup.  Flagstaff was beautiful – full of trees and looked like a great town.  Leaving Flagstaff for my 3 hour trip home this was my view for most of it:


Not exactly eye candy for this tree loving person!

A great day over all.  I’ll write soon with an update on Gallup, hiking, coaching volleyball etc.   For now, have a great week!





Filed under Adventure, New Mexico, Photography, Travel

Dead Sea Scrolls and the Endeavour

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition was wonderful. Very well presented.  I couldn’t take any photos, but it was worth the $16 (student rate) to spend time amongst all the different pieces on display.  One image that kept popping up all over the place was of pomegranates.  Apparently the scrolls spoke of how pomegranates symbolized fertility (with the numerous seeds inside).  There were carvings of itsy bitsy size representations on up to large adornments on pottery.  The scrolls themselves are in such disrepair that the translations were incomplete for the most part.  But in general they described the basic tenets of how to live your life as a good Jew.

Then, after my quiet time amongst ancient pots, bones and scrolls I ventured into the mayhem of student groups visiting the Science Center to see the space shuttle Endeavour.  At first I wasn’t overly impressed.  But as I wandered below its mass, I thought about how far this piece of machinery had gone away from our planet and what that must be like to truly leave earth.  It was humbling to think about.

Endeavour Collage

The part that was the most impressive to me was the rocket booster.  So complex.  IMG_3515

Then I walked back to downtown.  On my walk which took about 45 minutes, I noticed no one crossed the street unless the walk sign was on.  Also that cars waited, sometimes very patiently for pedestrians to walk across the street at the appointed time.  No one crossed whenever, cars didn’t take priority, no near misses.  It was so amazingly civilized and patient.  It has been a long time since I experienced such following of legal rules.  In Vietnam the mode was walk, don’t look at all the on-coming traffic, they will swerve around you if you do not slow down or speed up.  Just keep walking.  In Mexico it is ‘beware of the car’ as pedestrians will be hit and are of little priority to the driver.  And cross when you can as lights do not help your odds.

Heading back to Mexico in a couple of hours.  Feels a bit surreal that I have been here, in the US, in LA.  Back to reality and salsa dancing tomorrow night!

Enjoy your weekend.



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Filed under Adventure, Education, Travel

Two Days Not in Mexico

My school has decided that I actually need to have a work visa, ie. legal, to work for them.  So yesterday, a mere seven weeks from the end of my contract with them, they sent me to Los Angeles, California to get a stamp in my passport from the Mexican Consulate.  Yes, I had to leave the country to get this stamp.  And yes, I was asked to not mention that I had been working since mid-January at my school in Mexico City.  At least when I was supposed to lie I was going to be in my home country  – yikes!  No worries, I’m still roaming free, no jail time for me. I didn’t even have to lie as after nearly 3 hours of hanging out at the Consulate, I was interviewed and asked 2 questions: how many schools does the foundation, my school, have and, did I like my salary.  Ok, so maybe I lied on the second question :-).

But that is not why I chose to write today.  Rather this forced escape, vacation, killing of time…has got me thinking about all sorts of random things and I thought I’d share a couple oddities I have noticed about myself.

No Hello: I arrive back in the US of A and I stopped saying hello to everyone that passed me by on the sidewalk.  I stopped smiling at everyone and I generally felt more inside myself.  I noticed this as my walk this morning took me into the Mexican/Latino part of town where the Consulate is located.  The closer I came to the Consulate, the more people started saying Hola, Buenos Dias… to me, as most everyone does in Mexico.  I responded in kind, and with a smile and a nod of the head.  Then caught myself.  I realized I hadn’t done that further away where all the gringos were.  That made me sad.  It is similar to how Mexicans, as they pass by your table while you are eating tend to say Buen Provecho.  Basically saying ‘have a great meal.’  I love that.  I’ve tried to think of a way to casually say that when I walk by someone here in the States.  But going around saying “enjoy your meal” just seems intrusive for some reason.  Are Americans that unfriendly?  Well, I’m at least going to push myself to smile at people while I am here.  That can’t hurt.

Which Language:  I’ve been noticing that I don’t know how to speak – any language here.  Not that my Spanish is very good, but in Mexico I have to use it every day (I love that!).  I stumble and work my way around the correct way of saying it until the person understands me.  I have my pat, memorized phrases.  It is fun (most of the time) and challenging.  But then I came back to the US.  I got in the taxi last night and I struggled to find the words to explain where I wanted to go.  My mind kept trying to find Spanish words, yet I knew I could speak in English.  It was silly and I became tongue tied.  It is starting to wear off now, but I am happy to say that some words are still popping to my mind in Spanish first.

Unsatisfied:  I have been in LA since 11pm last night.  So roughly 15 hours – 4 of which I was asleep.  So in those 11 hours of awake-ness, I have been a picky, unsatisfied, seeing all the negative, kind-of-gal.  What is going on?  I can be negative, but I try to find the positive on a daily basis.  But this is ridiculous.  I noticed all the filthy, gum stained sidewalks, the filthy chairs in the hotel restaurant, the unsmiling people (service people), the blandness of the downtown, the lack of anything unique or interesting.  Wow!  Is it just LA or me?  I’m thinking its me in a funk.  Ugh.

But all is not lost – or rather, negative – as of an hour ago I found this great little cafe called Caffe Primo that just served me the best vanilla latte I have ever (seriously!) had. It is a great atmosphere, the food on other people’s plates look amazing, the music is upbeat but not obnoxious.  It is all good.  The people seem happy and there is this great mix of ethnicities.  I like that about big, American cities – diversity is rampant.

Tomorrow morning I am going to visit the California Science Center where the Space Shuttle Endeavor is housed and the big exhibition on display are the Dead Sea Scrolls from Israel – found hidden in caves in 1947.  They are over 2000 years old.  Should be a fun morning.

Then back to work writing my final paper on global health geography for my graduate program.

So me, feeling odd but coming out of it and starting to see the good again, in English.

Enjoy your day-after-Earth-day!


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Filed under Introspection, Travel

A Colorful Spring Break in Mexico

It is already over and I am back in Mexico City.  But the weather is stunning, the sky is cobalt blue and the birds, yes, the birds are tweeting seductively as if flirting with me.

But for the past 8 days I was in the stunningly beautiful towns of Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.  As a lovely treat, my mom flew down from Oregon to be my co-explorer.  We headed out on Saturday on a great bus (Primera Plus) and five hours later arrived at the hill top, next to the magnificent statue of Pipila (an indigenous Mexican revolutionary) overlooking the vibrant colors of Guanajuato.


Pipila, or Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro (1782–1863) – Burned down the door where the Spanish were hiding and aided the mining town of Guanajuato in expelling the invading Spaniards in 1810.


Our great AirBnB owner, Dermot, met us and we walked down the numerous steps to our perch 3/4 up the hill overlooking the city. Our place was sweet and decked out in color.  We spent the early evening getting acquainted with this lively town.  Wandering down our path to the town we found the tunnels that criss-cross underneath us, beautifully lined with intricate rock walls.  These underground roads are kilometers long, twisting and turning.  At one point during our wandering days we walked all the way through one – from one side of the mountain to the other (I say mountain with a bit of chortle).


On nearly every turn the city produced such enticing prospects.  The curves were sensuous, lively colors, iron balconies, pots over flowing with flowers and lots and lots of rocks work.






Then there were the churches.  We counted 8, but I think there were two or three more that we didn’t actually see, but we heard them.







Guanajuato is not a large town.  It has about 170,000 people.  There is a gorgeous theater and the main square which is a garden of manicured ficus trees (or something that looks really similar), is surrounded by fun eateries with lots of wandering bands.

Here is one of the trees in another plaza.IMG_2993 The town is full of fountains.



And for some reason they love Cervantes and his story about Don Quixote.  They have a festival in October dedicated to Cervantes and there are at least a half dozen sculptures of Don Quixote dotted throughout the downtown and just about every street artist had done something with the story.










Teatro Juarez


University of Guanajuato – smack dab in the middle of town.



Cable Car


Taking the cable car down the mountain.

Guanajuato was full of great restaurants, music every night, twists and turns to delight the eyes and happy, smiling people.  The weather was crispy in the mornings, toasty by afternoon and a couple nights we had midnight deluges.  Perfect.

But on day four we headed off on another bus to San Miguel de Allende and our AirBnB on the outskirts of town.  If you want anything of reasonable price in town, book early.  This place is popular!


Home to 140,000 residents, with about 10,000 expats calling it home.  It is beautiful.  Full of cobble stone streets, lots of boutiques and artistry, both local and from other parts of Mexico.  Lots of churches and a beautiful central plaza.  And yes, hills.  Thanks to our iPhone apps, we concluded that we averaged 5.5 miles of walking per day – and I must say much of it was uphill.



La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel is the focal point of the town.  It’s neo-gothic facade was built over the original church (built in the 17oo’s) in the 1880’s.  It is quite stunning.






Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramiez or Escuela de Bellas Artes was originally a convent. Now it is part of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes that offers classes in all types of art and the Spanish language.

As it was Holy Week (Semana Santa) there were lots of activities centered around the churches.  We saw many gigantic plaster-of-paris people dancing in the streets and then of course the parades on Good Friday.









It is no wonder why expats are enjoying San Miguel de Allende in great quantities, it is beautiful.  The architecture, the weather, the art, the classes offered (at the Instituto)… the energy was lively and happy.











IMG_3034We really didn’t do much but wander the numerous, curvaceous and colorful streets, eat and people watch.  It was a wonderfully relaxing week.  I highly suggest a visit next time you are in Mexico.

Now, back to teaching.  Only ten more weeks of school.  I can’t believe how fast it has gone.




Filed under Adventure, Mexico, Photography, Travel

Pulled South of the Border

Hola mis amigos!  Hailing you all from sunny Mexico.  I left chilly China on December 21st and spent a month back in Oregon before heading down to my new job teaching high school humanities in Mexico City.  Mom came down with me for the first ten days and we wandered and explored a bit before I had to check in to my new school.

My apartment is great.  Spacious and bright (I took this photo at 5:30pm with no lights on and its north facing!).IMG_3215

The school is quite nice.  It is 125 years old and I believe the oldest in Mexico.  The name is the American School Foundation of Mexico City.  It is an international school but is at least 70% made up of upper class Mexicans.  All are great kids.  I have to say they are fun to teach.  ASF Collage

I teach 10th grade World History and 12th grade US Government.  I have surprised myself, I thought I would love World History and muddle through US Govt.  But it is the exact opposite.  I’ve turned the US Govt into a focus on power: who has it, who wants, how do you get it and how do you keep it.  Its been fun to re-learn alongside the kids and we are having great discussions.  World History on the other hand, I am finding tedious.  I feel confined by it.  But it may be due to the fact that I am pretty much following someone else’s lessons as she has worked here for a number of years and I came mid-year.  So my creativity is stifled and I realize now how important that is for me to enjoy teaching.  My US Govt class I am the only teacher, so no need to collaborate – freedom!

The teaching schedule is ideal.  I teach 2 World History sections and 3 US Govt sections.  I’ve never had it so easy.  Coming from China where I had 5 different classes to prepare for, this is wonderful.  We teach on a block schedule so classes are 80 minutes long and every other day.  If I stay next year, I’m lobbying to teach TOK (IB Theory of Knowledge), US Govt and World Issues.  They do not offer the IGCSE class Global Perspectives I was teaching in China and I really wish they did.  It was a great class.  Hopefully I will at least get TOK if I stay.

The 10th grade students just finished their personal projects.  Apparently it is a 3 month independent study on whatever interests them.  Then they present to the whole school in booths, kind of like a science fair.  Here are a few of my students:ASF Students Collage

Maria wrote her first novel (she was one of three of my students that wrote books) and she is now trying to get it published.  Diego designed a water recycling and earth friendly building.  Maria (yes, I have many) taught a janitor to read and speak English well enough to pass his English exam and get into a local college.  Another student, not shown, built a solar powered scooter.  Some weren’t so stellar, but for the most part I was quite impressed.

The city itself is much more beautiful than I had expected.  There are 22 million people here in Mexico City – yes, much bigger than my little ‘ole Guangzhou of 14 million!  But the vibe and architecture and people are so completely different.  The buildings are shorter. Not everything is a 15 story high-rise apartment building.  Instead I live in one of the taller buildings (smo0shed together like brownstones) in my neighborhood of Condesa and it is 3 stories high.  I’m on the top floor.  Trees are abundant, streets are narrow, birds are everywhere.  Of course the weather is completely different as well.  Mexico City sits on a high plateau at 7,382 feet (2,250m).  So it is crisp, not humid.  The sun is hot when it hits you, but then stand in the shade and it is cool.  The mornings are 46F (7 C) and by afternoon it is up into the mid 70’s (22 C).  So layering is a must.  And since buildings do not have heaters (unless they are portable), everyone wears coats until late afternoon. But the glorious sunshine is out nearly every day.  I think I have seen only 2, maybe 3 days where it was cloudy most of the day.  So that alone makes me so very happy.

I live in a very nice neighborhood (and more expensive).  It is where many of us teachers live.  There are streets with the center between lanes as a walking park.


I live 10 blocks from a gigantic park (nearly double Central Park in NYC) called Chapultepec and it is fantastic.  There is a quiet area in the park that has classical music piped in while you sit and read.  Click on the picture and you can see and hear it.

On Sundays many of the streets around my neighborhood and around the park are closed off to cars for four hours so that bikers, roller bladers, runners and walkers can enjoy the streets.  Its wonderful.  Sundays are a day when people are out in the parks and museums.  Although there are parts of the park that are packed, others are nearly empty except for the exercisers.


The most crowded section of Chapultepec park. This is where all the vendors are, so they draw a crowd.


I just joined EcoBici.  You pay approximately USD $35 for the year and you get to use these bikes for 45 minutes at a time.  And there are stations all over the place so when you get to then end of your time, you simply drop one off and get another one.  It is great.  Today I had my first ride and although there are no gears, it was so fun to get further afield and see more of the city and the remote parts of the park.


EcoBici station. This was taken on a Sunday when the bikers owned the streets.



A little train takes kids and tourists around the park. I think it runs on electricity as there is no noise.


Here are some random photos:


Gluten Free Bakery


I’ll try to refrain! This was in an Irish bar bathroom. Looks it was made in Asia though!


Beautiful sculptures are found everywhere, along with fountains.


This guy hand sweeps (notice the broom) my street every week day.


Some buildings are definitely in need of some love. Took this on my bus ride home.


Although worn out, I loved this building.


One of the beautiful homes, behind a fence, on my walk to the park.

So I think that catches you up.  I’ve been down here a month and it is great.

Until next time, adios amigos!





Filed under Adventure, Education, High School, Humanities, Mexico, Photography, Travel

Cambodia Remembered

Ah the final day.  I did not want to leave Cambodia.  Instead I wanted to head into the interior and explore the whole.  But alas, I had to get back to China and work.  On this final day, Mr. Kong and I headed to Roluos Group.  Bakong was our first stop and it was impressive with its largess yet I must say a bit hard to capture in photos.

Bakong Entrance

Bakong Lion

Bakong Carving


Bakong GirlsThere was a Buddhist temple next to the ruins with a full monastery attached, surrounded by a moat with boats.

Bakong Buddhist Temple

Buddha & Bodhi Tree Painting


Bakong Boats


We then headed to Lolei – a small temple being refurbished.  The surrounding area was lush with tall Bodhi trees.  There was also a working monastery next to the ruin.


Lolei Monk

Before exploring Preah Ko, I wandered through the craft stalls across the streets.  There was a group helping orphans.  The orphans were making art out of buffalo skins and weaving.  It was a bit odd, as the orphans were mostly young kids who should be in school, but instead were laboring at making products for sale.  Didn’t seem as ‘charitable’ as the signs said.

Lolei Orphans Weaving

Lolei Orphans1

Preah Ko Orphans

I also spoke with Dr. Praeung.  He had been painstakingly creating replicas of the temples at Angkor Wat for decades.  He would start out by counting steps and rows and spires… then drawing it all exactly.  Then building molds that ultimately created a miniature of the original temple(s).  Some of his replications took over a year to create.  He was a man that believed in preserving history and sharing it with future generations.

Lolei Mr. Praeung

Lolei Reproductions

Lolei Heads

Preah Ko was my last stop.  It was really petite and pretty.  A tight group of temples that gave a sense of calm and wonder.  It was a nice ending to an amazingly full three days of temple hopping.  Although I was tired, I still very much wanted to learn more about the country and continue my explorations.

Preah Ko


Lolei Lions


We then headed back to Siem Reap.  I said goodbye to my wonderful Mr. Kong and walked into the town center where I had my final diner on the second floor terrace of the wine bar called “Sunshine.”  It was a perfect spot to watch the town come alive as the pink dusk settled into darkness.Mr. Kong Final Meal Siem Reap

I do hope some of the photos have enticed you to visit this wonderful place.  The people were soft and warm and the beauty of the country was never-ending.




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Filed under Adventure, Cambodia, Photography, Travel, Writing

The Intricacies of Ruins

To continue my Cambodia sojourn…

After my escape from the exercising women atop Bakheng at sunrise and a quick breakfast from a street vendor, Mr. Kong and I started the long journey out to Banteay Srei.  As you will recall, Mr. Kong had a small motor for his Tuk Tuk, so our speed never topped 30 mph.  It was just enough speed to have a light breeze to keep me cool.  And wonderfully slow enough to fall into the mesmerizing scenery of green, green, green rice paddies and palm trees.  Mr. Kong drove for two hours outside in the full sun over bumpy, sometimes jarring roads.  While I on the other hand, relaxed under the shade of the umbrella roof with my feet up.  About 30 minutes before our destination the rains hit hard.  I suggested we pull over and get a drink and wait it out.  The bedraggled looking Mr. Kong gratefully agreed and after I was settled with a cool drink, he proceeded to have the lovely ladies at the nearby street cafe extract his back pain with suction cups.

Once the rains stopped we bounced along again and came upon Banteay Srei – the “woman’s temple.”    This little gem was built by the guru of the future king Jayavarman V. in the 2nd half of the 10th century.  Nearly every inch of the red sandstone is decorated with intricate designs.  Although small in size, I kept circling and re-visiting different sides to breathe in the beauty.

Banteay Srei Buildings CollageI was continually amazed at how well the carvings were preserved after 1,047 years.

Banteay Srei Carvings8

Banteay Srei Carvings5

Banteay Srei Cavings4

Banteay Srei Carvings3

Banteay Srei Carvings2

Banteay Srei Carving1After a nice long visit with mostly European visitors viewing quietly alongside me, Mr. Kong and I headed over to Bang Melea, the ruins that are ensconced with rooting trees and tumbling boulders.  I was excited, as I had been told you can climb and explore all you want at this location.  But unfortunately I found three large tourist buses had just arrived shortly before me, so it was over-run with picture-posing frenzy.  Needless to say, I didn’t stay long.

Bang Melea Entrance

Bang Melea

Bang Melea3


The roots and their determination to break through wherever they wanted to, was impressive.
Bang Melea Tree Roots5

Bang Melea Tree Roots4

Bang Melea Tree Roots2


Can’t you just see a scary movie in the making with this one?
Bang Melea Tree Roots


Very few carvings at Bang Melea.Bang Melea Carving

On the way out to Mr. Kong, I had to stop and spread the wealth to the locals.  At every location they were selling mahogany beads.  I’m hopeful that the trees are sustainably grown… they are gorgeous!

Bang Melea Trinkets


So then Mr. Kong and I started our long meander back to Siem Reap.  Here are a few of the images I caught, when I remembered to take photos.  It was so lovely to just smile and wave at the curious, happy faces.

TUK TUK Photos7

TUK TUK Photos6

TUK TUK Photos5

TUK TUK Photos4

TUK TUK Photos3

TUK TUK Photos2

TUK TUK Photos


What a great day.

So I will leave you there for now.  Coming up, one more day of gorgeous ruins, orphans, art…  Stay tuned.





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Filed under Adventure, Cambodia, Introspection, Photography, Travel

Old Glory in Cambodia

I’m on my way back to China.  I’ve spent the last couple weeks back in the US with my mother and siblings.  My dad died a couple weeks ago and this last Saturday we held a ‘celebration of life’ that was really lovely.  Although the reason for the gathering was very sad, it was a wonderful reunion for my mom and a confirmation of how loved my dad was.  I leave with a sad heart, but knowing that I will be back in six weeks for the Christmas holiday.

So, today, sitting here in the Seattle, Washington airport, I thought I would finally post the fun I had over a month ago in Cambodia…

What a breath of fresh air; Cambodia.  It is filled with vibrant greens, awe-inspiring ancient architecture and reminders of hell.  I only had four and half days, but I felt the beauty and history so exquisitely that I did not want to leave.

I arrived in the dark and a gentle man with a bright smile held a sign with my name.  As we walked out into the night a warm rush of liquid air surrounded me.  I hopped into the back of his Tuk Tuk and off we ambled (about 25 mph) to my lovely hotel (The Claremont) in downtown Siem Reap.

I woke to sunshine and walked to the top terrace for breakfast.  A beautiful spot that overlooked the town.Claremont Terrace  At 8:30am I met with Mr. Kong, my Tuk Tuk driver and off we went to spend the day amongst the ruins.  First stop Ta Prohm.  This crumbling magnificence was built in the 12th century by Jayavarman VII.  It was a royal monastary and had lots of additions added on into the 13th century by Indravarman II.  The intricacy of the roots clinging to the stones as well as forcing them to give space kept me glued often to just one spot. Of course the carvings were dramatic, often gruesome, some whimsical.  The lintels that were left in situ (meaning not refurbished, but the originals), were extraordinary.  The details that have remained unprotected for over 800 years were still often so crisp, as if created only months before.  The majority of the ruins at Angkor Wat were built with sandstone.  This type of stone is created from compacted sand aggregate over long periods of time and is extremely strong and weather resistant.  The stone pieces were huge.  Most had hole divots from where the slaves would insert wood poles to carry them.  One of the site guides told me that some of those holes were then filled with jewels in the King’s halls.

Collage.Ta Prohm

Next stop was Bayon – my favorite of all the temples.  It is filled with gigantic heads which although unproven by experts – they looked to be of women.  Loved it.  Besides the heads, it had a feeling of calm, mystery (mostly due to the fact that you couldn’t see around corners) and with such large heads it made it feel like it was a place of learning, wisdom, intelligence.  I toyed so long at this site that two large Chinese two groups came and went while I was immersed.

Collage.Faces Bayon

Sweating so profusely (as was everyone) in the intense humidity, I slowly wandered down the tree-lined lane to the Terrace of the Elephants and then once again re-joined Mr. Kong and had lunch at a nearby stand.  I had my first Angkor Beer there.  But it was the wrong move.  I was so hot, so soaked with sweat that the semi-cool beer nearly put me to sleep.  But rally I did and off we went to Prah Khaan, Neak Pean, and Srah Srang (the emperor’s swimming pool).

Then my camera battery decided to die.  Thank goodness Siem Reap caters to the tourist.  Mr. Kong whisked me (in a slow way) back into town, I bought a new, fully charged battery and back we went to the coup de gras of the day: Angkor Wat itself.

But of course I wasn’t the only one who had read the guide book stating that the best time to see Angkor Wat is in the afternoon as the light is the best for photographs.  So, I was amongst the throngs of Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Europeans and I suppose a few from the good ‘ole USA.  Together, en masse we explored the refurbished paintings, climbed into the spires and took our requisite photos.  I didn’t stay long.  I’m not much of a crowd (or loud loving) person as you now know.  I couldn’t feel it’s awe with so many people around me.  But I did finally see a monkey.  I had been wondering where they were.  Very few birds tweeting and not much rustling of branches above.  It was crazy hot, so perhaps only in the early mornings and late evenings do the sane animals venture out.  Anyway, this one Macaque (I think) male came ambling down the side of the temple as I was heading down as well.  He cared no heed to all the homo-sapiens surrounding him and slowly noticing him, gaping.  Then he sat down right in front of me, scratched is privates and stared at us.


My day was over.  Nine hours of temple traipsing and I was beat.  Mr. Kong dropped me off at my hotel and asked me if I wanted to do some site-seeing around the town that night.  I laughed.  I was so tired, I was thinking a massage, dinner, glass of wine, sleep.  We confirmed a 5:00am pick-up time for the morning and I said good night.  After a cool shower, I did make it upstairs for a light dinner and glass of wine, but I couldn’t muster the energy for a massage.

The next morning it was cool.  So wonderfully lovely that the short 15 minute Tuk Tuk ride to Phnom Bakheng for the sunrise, I had to wrap myself in my scarf.  I climbed, all alone in the dark, the 20 minutes up to the top of the “mountain” and then up the steep steps of the temple.  There were five couples at the top.  Perfect.  Everyone respectful of the quiet, anticipating the awakening of the jungle.  The sunrise felt very distant but my great little camera zoomed out and captured some beautiful moments – these are NOT touched up, but really what my camera captured.

Sunrise Forest Sunrise.Ruin





Just after the sun had gone into the clouds we all were extracted from our rapture by loud, cackling women coming up the path, up the temple steps and proceeded to stand in front of us and do their morning exercises laughing and yelling at each other.  The reverence was gone.  Down I climbed to an awaiting Mr. Kong and to breakfast.

I have to catch my plane so I will leave it here and continue when I am back in Guangzhou.

Until then… Gretchen



Filed under Adventure, Cambodia, Travel

A Chinese Village, 14.8 Million Strong

I have arrived in Huadu, China, a small…ish suburb of Guangzhou in southern China, just two hours inland from Hong Kong.  Trees and green hills abound and calmness reigns amongst the high-rises in my neighborhood.  All of this is very surprising to me.  Happy people meandering the streets and lush plant life are every where.  I knew that China’s major cities were built with high-density in mind, but to me, that meant people en masse, cars honking, smog, ugliness and rudeness.  To the contrary.  Although there are 1 million people packed around me, you would not know it.  Very few cars honk horns, people are in large numbers in certain places, but most of the time the streets are easy to maneuver.  It is a bit odd really.

But let me back up as I have now been here for 22 days and I have eased in to my new world.

Week One First Impressions:

I arrived in Guangzhou on Sunday, August 16th.  To say the least, Guangzhou is huge.  It has 14.8 million people, but still, I didn’t realize how large that would really be.  Especially knowing that the Chinese like to make dense, compact living ie. high rises everywhere – I somehow assumed it would just be a tight-knit largish city that was walkable. Ha.  I am so naive.  I’ll say it again, Guangzhou is huge!

Early Monday morning I was taken to get a health checkup for our insurance.  It took us two hours to reach the government hospital.  The entire time we were within the city.  On either side of the freeways for miles and miles, there are high rises for living, but I have yet to see where everyone works. In other words, although we drove for so long, I never saw the downtown or large areas of just commerce. The bottoms of the high rises are often businesses, but none could possible employ all that live above.  These high rises have at least 100 apartments in each of them.

Chinese Health Care System:  Mandatory Foreign Workers Checkup

It felt like we were farm animals being moved through a health screening before slaughter.  Some of the nurses were friendly, many too busy to be courteous and just pointed at things, annoyed that I couldn’t speak the language.  Plus, as we had arrived around 10am, we were cutting it close to get everything done before the hospital closed for lunch at 12 noon.  Here is a list of what I, and about 100 other poor souls had checked that morning:  Blood panel – 2 huge viles of my blood, ultra-sound all over my belly and back – very cold and goopy, radiology – I was directed into a huge metal room, instructed via pictures how to put on the protective sheath around my private parts, then told, again via hand signals to face a board with lines on it, a big sound vibrated through the thick walls and then I was done.  I’m still alive, so hopefully nothing too awful was shot through my body. Next I had height and weight checked and then I gave a urine sample.  I was hopeful that I was done, but no.  EKG came next.  This one was scary.  Big, metal clamps connected to wiring were put around my ankles and arms – kind of like I was being strapped in to be electrocuted.  Then metal, round discs were placed on my poor, left, bare breast.  Zap! – no not really.  But I was sure it was coming.  Seconds later and again I was done and on my way to the Ear, Nose, Throat gal.  The problem now was that it was getting dangerously close to 12 noon.  The gal that checked me out at this station literally checked those areas in less than 20 seconds.  It felt a bit like whiplash as she tugged on each ear, thrusted the wood stick into my throat etc.  I had to laugh as it was so fast, and happily she did too.  My final checkup was the eye doctor.  He was jovial and could speak some English.  It was a great way to end.  I put a big, ceramic spoon with Chinese writing on it over each eye and told him the direction of the ‘E’s.  He said I did a great job.  Then pointed to a table full of those pictures within dots ( I can’t remember the name).  And said I saw the image and I was done.  Phew.  Right at the bell of 12 noon.

I’m now a number in their system.  And, they can now see what it is going to cost them to give me insurance and keep me healthy.

Huadu 2

The RT Mart – where I try to avoid, but it is a well stocked grocery (+++) store.

Huadu Misc

Top of Craft Museum, Year of the Horse statue and TV Tower

Overall, I have been happily amazed at the smiles that I have encountered.  The last time I was in China I spent most of the time in Hong Kong and Kowloon.  I found un-smiling, unfriendly people.  So I was not looking forward to the effort it was going to take to break through and find the happy people living inside.  Or just living in a world of un-smiling people for a couple years seemed awful.  But I am happy to report that people in Guangzhou (gwan joe) and Huadu (hwa do) smile often, especially after I look at them because they are blatantly gawking  at me, this strange foreigner. There aren’t many of us in this part of town.

After the health check, then a lunch that we were an hour late to, we finally headed back home to our apartments – yes, in high rises.  I needed to get a few things for the apartment and food.  The closest market is 3 long blocks away.  I had been told it was decent and full of everything I needed.  At 7pm I walked over, still swelteringly hot.  Really it is the humidity that gets you as I think it was only in the upper 80’s by then.  I walked into a nightmare.  I think all one million inhabitants of Huadu were inside this mall.  The Fall Festival is coming up so that may be some of the reason people were out in hoards, but somehow I doubt it.  After seeing the attraction of shopping and malls in Mandalay, Myanmar and Bangkok, Thailand I think it is really just something fun to do with the whole (I’m talking, entire – grandmas, grandpas, moms, dads, multiple children…) family.

Trying to by-pass the mass of people scrambling for carts at the entrance, I wrongly did not grab a cart going in – each one costs $.15 and the system is clunky and inefficient, so I just went in thinking I would just get a few things and be more agile in my movements without a cart.  Well once you are in the throngs, going against the tide was nearly not an option.  But yes, I attempted it.  Anyway I started finding the few things I needed amongst the screaming children, loud conversations and general mayhem.  So then my hands were getting full.  Oops.  Thought I would just head back to get a cart.  Big mistake, everyone was staring at me for going the wrong direction and messing up the not-so-smooth flow.  Then when I finally got to the carts they were all chained up.  My hands were full, people were everywhere jostling each other and me.  The gals that could have helped me, just stared and giggled.  I have to say I was not hosting my best “USA representative” face as I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t help me.  They acted like they had no idea what I was trying to do.  Just a tad overwhelming and frustrating.  But I did manage the thank them (barely) once I got the coins and unchained my cart.

RT Mart Checkout

RT Mart Checkout. There are 50, yes 50 checkout lanes!

The fun was not over.  I then had to go back into the chaos and find the cashiers and exit.  I decided now that I had a cart, and since I was already there enduring, that I would get a few groceries too.  It was nearly impossible to maneuver (especially now that I had a cart!).  I picked up the bare minimum as my friendly demeanor was fast departing.  But then I couldn’t find a way out.  I tried to go with the flow, but it seemed the flow circled aimlessly.  Finally I saw a ramp escalator going down – good sign as I was on the third floor.  I arrived to an entire new floor of thousands of people and products.  Still no cashiers in site.  Again I went with the flow and stayed to the outside and this time spotted them.  I felt bad for the cashiers, the noise level was so loud, I kept thinking about their ears.  They all needed earplugs for the hours spent at those decibel levels.  Once I paid, I then exited the grocery story into the mall.  But there was no exit in site.  I have to admit I was fried.  I was so ready to be free of people and noise.  I started zigging and zagging around people more quickly than ‘respectable.’  I had to get out.  Finally I spotted a door.  FREEDOM!

The warm, humid rush of the night air (it was now 8:30pm) was welcoming.  I was going to leave my cart and run home, but no, you needed to chain it back up first.  I couldn’t believe people actually did this.  They took the time to weave the chain back through their cart before leaving.  Thankfully, as I was about to be a bad foreign visitor and just leave the damn thing, a woman and child came up waiting to then pay to remove a newly chained cart.  I gave them mine.  She tried to pay me, but I kept saying no.  She didn’t understand.  But I smiled and waved her goodbye as I walked away.  Maybe that made up for some of my bad foreigner vibes I had inside – hopefully.

The next few days were spent at the Dragon Lake Resort.  It is like a mini-Europe.  Cobblestone roads, faux-old rock walled buildings.  It is quite pretty with vines growing up the sides of buildings and sweetly arching bridges over water ways.  I learned it was built for the wealthy to come, stay, play golf and for the rest to come and take photos as if they were in Europe.  So we have been using their conference room as our prep area as our school is still being built.

The group of foreign and Chinese teachers seem to be really dedicated teachers and fun people. We have now started developing our curriculums.  As this is a new school, we are combining the Chinese National Curriculum with the National Curriculum of the United Kingdom.  I am teaching humanities to years 6 – 10.  So with 5 grade levels to develop it is a bit challenging.  I have created the curriculum calendar, basically outlining the year ahead and now developing  a more complete  curriculum map using Unit By Design.

Here is what my school looks like as of now.  They still seem confident that it will open on time, in 10 ten days.  I’m not so sure.

School Collage

I purchased a cruiser bike this weekend.  It is so fun.  I have been tootaling around town exploring.  Really nice to start to get a feel of this vast city (suburb).


Green Huadu

View from my 7th floor balcony and street scenes

I love all the care they take to make it green, lush and full of flowers.  Check out the off ramp!  Every ramp and over pass has bougainvillea growing on it.  Stunning.  I wish we did this in the US.

Last night was the start of the Mid-Autum Festival which is similar to Thanksgiving in the US; a time for families to get together.  At my apartment complex they hosted what looked like a talent show.  Girls and boys, young and old presented their best on stage.  It was odd.  No one clapped except when the MC’s came up and spoke.  No one seemed to mind, but I did.  Felt odd not to support them.

Mid-Autum CollageMonday is a holiday so I will take advantage and start to develop actual lesson plans.  Looking forward to getting into the details.  We have been told to be very flexible the first month i.e. not to expect internet.  So I will plan as if I was teaching in the ’90’s!

Next post will be shorter and will come soon.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.  It is fun to be here and start to feel China in my bones a bit.

Happy Fall!






Filed under Adventure, China, Education, Global Health, High School, Humanities, Middle School, Travel