This year has involved a lot of soul searching (and a fair bit of job searching). The experience we had in China left a lot of scars that needed time to heal and part of that process was questioning EVERYTHING we thought we ever wanted.
We entered this phase of “what’s next?” with an open mind and few expectations. Sometimes that kind of detachment from a specific outcome pays off by bringing in exactly what you’re looking for.
We are moving to Thailand this summer and couldn’t be more excited. We had the privilege of experiencing Thailand quite a lot last year when we were trapped outside of China and cannot wait to get know this beautiful country better.
Ah, January 2020. When things still felt sort of normal and we were relatively unconcerned about coronavirus. We felt hopeful, even. We were finally starting to sort of get into a rhythm with our new school and city and were looking forward to an awesome trip to Japan, somewhere we had wanted to visit for years. We ate warm bowls of ramen, indulged in otaku culture in Osaka, and saw fabulous Shinto temples in Kyoto.
Sh*t got real in February. The virus was spreading quickly. China was going into lockdown. Our school advised those of us who were out of the country to stay out and prepare to teach online for two weeks. Like many of our colleagues, we made the move to Thailand since we couldn’t really afford two more weeks of Japan. We were pretty happy about this….at first. Two weeks of teaching from the beach while things calm down? That won’t be so bad!
Two weeks became a month. What was really going on? When could we get back? How long is this going to last? Our visa for Thailand was only good for 30 days…where were we going to go? Things were already getting bad in both Japan and Korea. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before the virus would reach us.
That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy some of that time. We split our time between Krabi and Chiang Mai, both of which exceeded our expectations.
We spent most of March in Cambodia – Siem Reap specifically. We had friends who worked at the same school who were also there, so that made the experience feel a little less insane…at least we had others who were going through the same thing. We also LOVED everything about Siem Reap. Amazing restaurants, amazing people, and Angkor Wat was a dream. I definitely plan to go back when the world is normal again.
Towards the end of March, we suddenly got a message from our school saying “COME BACK NOW”, just two days after a message saying “DON’T COME BACK” and at the same time as the American embassy said to get back to the U.S. A lot of mixed messages with very little explanation or transparency. In the end, we couldn’t get a ticket back the U.S. as many countries were closing their borders, so we took the chance on China and got in just days before they closed the border to all foreigners.
April was strange. We spent 15 days in a tiny quarantine hotel, half of which was supposed to be our “spring break”. When we finally made it home, it was nice to be in our own apartment for the first time in over three months. Living out of a backpack had definitely taken its toll. Life was seemingly more or less back to some sort of normal in Chongqing, save for the ultra anti-foreigner attitude and people in masks everywhere. Still, we were ready for some kind of normality.
May suuuuuuuuucked. The whole school got an email on a Monday evening telling us we would be informed by email the next day whether we had jobs for the next year or not. Enrollment was down and they were planning to cut 50% of stuff. We got the email the next day that we were both being laid off. It was terrible. After everything we had gone through, it felt like a slap in the face. Neither of us had ever lost a job before…and what a time to be suddenly unemployed. All travel between China and the rest of the world was shut down. Where were we supposed to go? What were we supposed to do? Looking back, I realized I should have been way less trusting of the school and demanded more transparency. You live and you learn, eh? Anyway, it was pretty rough being laid off towards the end of the school year, just a couple days before my birthday.
June was a lot of negotiating our termination contract and severance, while also trying to enjoy the last bit of time with our friends in Chongqing. We did a lot of touristy things around the city. We had decided not to bother with another school in China. So many of them were laying off teachers in droves. There were opportunities in Chinese schools, but I was sick of being at the mercy of schools in China. Very few of them were being honest with their staff. Yes, the U.S. was faring worse with the pandemic, but at least we wouldn’t be deported. The only issue remaining was a complete lack of flights, but our residence permits were good through August, so we knew we had a little time at least.
We made it home! We got to my sister’s house in Kansas City and I dyed my hair turquoise, because why the hell not!
Takeout tacos. Yoga. Art. Repeat.
We celebrated our 12th dating anniversary with a little outdoor date in downtown KC (since we had to spend our wedding anniversary in quarantine). Switched to purple hair. Got my yoga instructor license and mastered headstands (woohoo!)
Happy Halloween! Celebrated all month with crafts, treats, art, and costumes. Even with social distancing, it’s so much easier to feel the Halloween spirit in America. October is such a magical month.
YAY NEW PRESIDENT! Also, we moved to my mom’s, I started grad school, and the rigamarole of international job hunting began. Quite a busy month after such a relaxing summer! At least we get to hang out with this kitty.
Christmas at home for the first time in six years! It’s a little sad that there are a lot of people we still can’t see because of the pandemic, but it is nice to have a traditional Christmas for a change after so many years in places that don’t celebrate. I am grateful for this time to get back in touch with my roots a little and enjoy all of the hygge vibes.
2020 has certainly been a strange year of ups and downs. It certainly did not turn out how I expected it to, but it has taught me to be grateful for the little things and to get comfortable living in the present (and with uncertainty). I’m grateful for the lessons, experiences, and relationships that have gotten me through it. Here’s to hoping for a brighter 2021 and new adventures on the horizon!
It’s been almost a year since I’ve written anything….probably because I’ve been grappling with the nightmare that is COVID-19 for about as much time. Having just stepped out of Turkey, which – although a lovely place- was in the grips of economic downturn and political turmoil, we had hoped China would be an era of stability for us. Turns out we were really, really wrong.
Four months in, at the peak of culture shock and just before a much-anticipated Chinese New Year break, the news of a deadly epidemic was spreading like wildfire. Reluctantly, we went on our scheduled vacation to Japan…just days before we were to return, our school and the American embassy sent out a warning not to come back. What was supposed to be two weeks turned into to three months of e-learning, running out one visa and then another (we stayed in Thailand for about a month and a half and in Cambodia for a month). We were dealing with a school that was giving as little information as possible; one day, they would say “don’t come back to China” and the next they would say “buy a ticket and come back now!” When we did eventually go back, we endured a horrific quarantine, replete with anti-foreigner sentiment, being separated from my husband without being informed in advance, and not being fed or given water consistently for the first several days. The whole experience ruined China for me, frankly, which has been hard to deal with after falling in love with being an expat in Turkey.
To add insult to injury, just two weeks after we finally made it back home to Chongqing, my husband and I were laid off for the following school year, along with several other staff members due to declining enrollment.
I didn’t love the school or Chongqing, but it still felt like a punch to the gut. We really only had two choices: take another job in China, or go back to the U.S. to figure things out and be with our families. In the end, we chose the latter. Neither of us could really take much more of China or its schools.
And now here we are in America…which really can’t seem to get its shit together in this pandemic. We had initially toyed with the idea of teaching here, but seeing how political schools have become in all this -using teachers and students as sacrificial lambs for the economy- we just decided to take a year off and live off of our savings. It isn’t ideal, but we are lucky to have that option.
We’ve been back home in Kansas for about four months now, and it’s been pretty boring for the most part. But boring hasn’t been all bad after over a year of frequent turmoil.
2019 has been a strange year. A year of change, transition, ups, and downs. A year I’m ready to let go, but a year to remember nonetheless. I am hoping 2020 is a little more settled, a little more cheerful, but no less adventurous. Happy New Year.
First term has come and gone. I can hardly believe it.
Back in Turkey, we spent most of our fall breaks in cold European cities, trying to find traces of autumn that would remind us of home. This year, we took a different approach, instead opting for summery island paradise. While I still long for colorful leaves and pumpkin spice everything, I can’t say I minded spending a week on the beach.
In the end, I had pumpkin spice anyway.
Adjusting to a new job and a new country is exhausting; often, so is traveling. We didn’t want to put too many expectations on our first vacation after a couple of stressful months, so we kept it low key: 1) Hotel by the beach 2) No plans.
Days went by with nothing but swimming, lounging on the beach, drinking out of coconuts, sipping on a few beers, and eating delicious Thai food. In other words, paradise.
After several joyful lazy days, we decided it was worth our while to book a tour and explore more of the island. We joined a half-day Phuket city tour and were the only ones who booked it, so we ended up getting a private tour for the same price as the group tour. Score!
Our first stop was Big Buddha, a monument dedicated to Buddha that overlooks the whole island and can be seen from most of it. As if the statue itself wasn’t enough of an attraction, the views from its platform were stunning.
Stop #2 was Chalong Temple, which was also gorgeous.
Last but not least, we had a couple of hours to explore Old Phuket Town, which is a delightful neighborhood full of beautiful pastel buildings, cool cafes, and interesting shops.
This rainbow building was my fave.
In the end, I may have had one too many Singha beers, bought more souvenirs than I really needed, and definitely left with a sunburn, but I can’t recommend Phuket enough. Is it touristy? Very. Is it fun? Absolutely. The Thai people are wonderful, kind, and friendly and English is widely spoken. The food is cheap, plentiful, and delicious. There is literally something for every kind of traveler, whether you want to be a beach bum, hike, or party until you drop. We chose to stay in Kata Beach, which is a quieter part of the island more suited to couples and families to avoid some of the more obnoxious crowds.
I left feeling refreshed, relieved at having survived my first couple of months in China, and excited to explore more of Thailand in the future.
After a few months of intense job hunting, we found a school that seems like a great fit for us for next year and were offered the jobs a few days before Christmas. It still feels pretty surreal.
I am already daydreaming about misty green mountains, spicy hot pot, breathtaking temples, and cuddly pandas.
We are super excited to explore Asia, take another step in our careers, and immerse ourselves in a brand new culture. We are also soaking up our last six months here in Turkey before taking off on this next crazy adventure.
After a phenomenal adventure full of hiking and camping through Wadi Rum and Petra, we were ready for a little R&R. The final stop on our Jordanian journey – the Dead Sea- was perfect for just that.
After a scenic drive along the King’s Way and through Wadi Araba, we were greeted with a hazy coast full of jade green water. It was at least 10 degrees warmer in Northern Jordan than it had been in the desert, so we were happy to have a little sunshine in our lives.
We had gotten pretty gross after all of the hiking and desert wandering and the campsites had offered pretty limited shower facilities, so we were ready for a slightly more pampering experience. We got a pretty sweet deal at a spa resort (~$60/night – including buffet breakfast and a private beach), which seemed like the perfect way to end our holiday.
Being able to float in the super salty water was an insanely cool sensation. It was very difficult for me to abide by the one-hour-at-a-time rule because it was so relaxing.
The next few days were spent swimming, floating, sunbathing, and enjoying some drinks in the sunshine. It was the perfect end to a fantastic vacation.
Petra: the crowning jewel of Jordan. I mean, how is this place even real? To think that it was once a city of thousands, intricately carved right into the mountains…wow. It was humbling.
We decided to go straight to Petra after our camel ride in Wadi Rum, which made for an exhausting but incredible day. Thankfully, we chose to purchase Jordan passes for our trip, which included two days at Petra (you need at least two days to see all the highlights and could easily spend three). The Jordan Passes also include the visa fees to visit Jordan, as well as entry to several other sites like Wadi Rum and Jerash – great value for the money.
A rare view of a mostly unobstructed Treasury!
Most people only know Petra because of the Treasury, which is undeniably beautiful; however, Petra is SO much more than that! I couldn’t believe how massive and extensive this ancient city really is, not to mention how well-preserved most of the structures are.
There are a wide variety of routes you can take through Petra, ranging from flat, easy walks to more intense hikes. If you visit, expect to be bombarded by people asking if you want to ride a horse, donkey, or camel. Most of these people are not licensed professionals and in my opinion, most of the animals there did not look well taken care of. Personally, I did not feel comfortable riding any of them and chose to go on foot. I also enjoyed the intensity of the longer hikes and wanted to be able to stop and take in the views as I pleased.
The hike to the Monastery was one of the highlights for me. Along the way, there are tons of great views, it’s not nearly as crowded as the Treasury, and there is a great little cafe right next to it.
Our other favorite hike was to the High Place of Sacrifice. The views from the top were stunning.
It’s amazing to imagine what Petra would have been like back in its heyday, when people still lived in caves nestled along the mountains’ walls. This New Wonder of the World is an ancient marvel not to be missed.
We woke up bright and early for our journey into Wadi Rum desert. We quickly shoved the last of our delicious breakfast down our throats in Aqaba before our driver came to take us to the entrance. The seaside highway quickly gave way to sandy mountains, and before long, the vast stretches of red desert were all we could see. It was the stuff of dreams.
It was a cold and cloudy day and our Bedouin travel guide reminded us to keep our coats within reach throughout the tour. In the end, I was grateful for the chilly weather as it made the countless hiking stops much more enjoyable; I could not imagine doing it in the heat.
The first few hours of the tour were spent hiking under the mystical fog, which somehow made the desert look even more amazing. To be honest, I had not expected the tour to include so many great hikes (I imagined it more like a safari); it greatly exceeded my expectations.
Around noon, we pulled over to have some lunch and warm up. Along the way, we grabbed some dry pieces of bush for the fire, which was difficult since it had just rained. We enjoyed a delicious stew of tomato, pepper, onion, peas, and beans, followed by some freshly brewed tea. It was easily one of my best meal experiences to date.
The sky started to clear a bit after lunch, and while I loved the way the clouds looked hanging over the desert, the sun on my face was a welcome sensation.
The final hike on top of the arch bridge was an incredible way to end our desert tour.
Above and below!
We headed towards our camp just in time to watch the sunset.
As if we hadn’t already had an incredible day, our hiking adventure in the desert was followed by a fun and relaxing evening at a Bedouin camp, where we met some wonderful fellow travelers, ate a delicious meal, played several rounds of various card games, and learned more about Jordan and Bedouin life.
It was a cold night in Wadi Rum, but we managed to sleep well under several thick blankets. After a quick breakfast, we were ready for our final Wadi Rum adventure: a camel ride across the desert.
My husband may or may not want a puppy.
We traveled with Wadi Rum Nomads and loved every second of it. Camping in Wadi Rum was a crazy, magical adventure of a lifetime that we will never forget.