It has been three weeks and I can safely say that I LOVE my job. I don't think I've ever been able to say that before. Not that serving food and cocktails to needy, rude people didn't just tickle my fancy - but this job is a wee bit better :)

Like I said before, my students are absolutely crazy, often out of control and usually drive me nuts - but there's just something completely fulfilling about teaching. I'm not going to get all "Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul" and say that there have been so many moments where I felt like I have inspired students or that I've made such a huge difference in their lives at all, but teaching is just fun. When the students aren't being disrespectful or rowdy, they actual listen to you and you get to call the shots. It's nice being in charge. But obviously it's more than that - it's just fun talking with the students, learning about their culture and even thinking up lesson plans and games to play is kind of exciting. Yeah, I know it's only been three weeks, but I hear the first month is the hardest anyway. 

Getting settled with things OUTSIDE the job, however, has not been a picnic. Getting a bank account, a cell phone, internet at home & a bus pass all seem like impossible feats when you get here. You have to get this "ARC" card which stands for Alien Registration (Card?) and you have to get this first before you get anything else. But to get your ARC, you first have to get a medical check. So after they finished attaching strange clamps on me and thinking that I was about to wake up in an ice bath with a missing kidney, I was cleared and able to go to the Immigration Office for my ARC. 

You have to have someone Korean go with you everywhere because most people don't speak English so my co-teacher brought me everywhere, thank God. So after sitting in the Immigration Office waiting room (which rivaled DMV wait times), I got a temp card while I wait for my real one to come (which takes 3 weeks. If you ever come here - make sure you get this temp card on the spot because it has your ARC # which is just as good as the card).

After that, I was able to FINALLY open my bank account! Which meant I also got my flight & settlement allowance! (Thank God because I was down to about 30,000 won. & unfortunately, that's only about $30). I also was able to sign up for a cell phone contract the other day. So long are the days of desperately searching for open WiFi hotspots to figure out where the bus has left me stranded because I'll actually be able to use 3G on my iPhone :) Thank you baby Jesus!

So I don't know if I've mentioned, but Nate and I have separate places. His place is ginormous - and when I say ginormous, it's about the smallest one bedroom apartment you'd find in The States, but with a pretty big bedroom. Regardless, it's probably bigger than most places in this country. My flat is tiny but I love it. Minus the finicky heater, old school internet (no wireless interent so I'm using an "ethernet cable" - when is the last time you've ever even said "ethernet cable"?) and questionable closet.

Have I mentioned that Korean heaters are super duper genius inventions that the US needs to adopt immediately? They aren't normal heaters that blow out warm air - they have water pipes that run underneath the floorboards (everyone has hard(wood?) floors) and when you turn your heater on, hot water goes through them so your floor heats up and keeps your toes super toasty. I've never loved sitting/laying on the floors so much. They're super efficient though, and keep your place warm a long time. 

My "closet" is in this little outside area which isn't outside, but it's just 0 degrees for some reason. It's the section of my place that has the washing machine (I think every place here has its own washing machine, which would be more amazing if it was accompanied by a drying machine - but beggars can't be choosers) and there's a door that opens up to my tiny closet. The tenant before said that she wouldn't put clothes out there because they would always stay damp so for now, I have a ghetto clothes rack in my room that I'm soon to Pinterest into something fabulous. I wanted to avoid putting pictures up of my flat because it's super boring, but I will anyway on my next post and then I'll hopefully have some amazing "After (post-Pinteresting) Photos" to add later.

The Asian Ways (the strange and sometimes brilliant ways of Koreans):

  • Everyone wears slippers to school - students AND teachers. Everyone wears their normal shoes but then changes into slippers inside
  • Needless to say, everyone also takes their shoes off inside homes. & even some restaurants as well
  • Everyone brushes their teeth at school after lunch - this may be in part to the mass amounts of kimchi consumed
  • It's not uncommon to sit on the floor in a lot of Korean restaurants
  • Students will often bring the teacher's things (computer, notebook, etc) to and from class for them from the teacher's office
  • Most apartments/flats here are key-less so everyone just has a code to unlock their door
  • Disposing of trash, recycling & "food waste" is absolutely ridiculous (yes, that means you have to separate your food waste from your garbage)  You have to pay for special trash bags and then everyone just piles them up outside and somebody supposedly picks it up every day (I'm not convinced). You also have to purchase special "food waste" containers & then also buy special "chips" (& not like potato chips - like little SD-card-sized chips) at the market to be able to get your food waste picked up. This is not a brilliant method, in my opinion.
  • Kids here are obscenely busy. After 8 hours of normal school, they often go to another school. High school kids aren't home until around 11pm. 
  • [Some of] My kids are GENIUSES. This kid started paying with Rubik's cubes 2 months ago.
I made the mistake of continuing to watch Rubik's Cube videos after posting this and then my kid didn't seem as impressive, but I've definitely never met any other 14 year old who can even solve a Rubik's Cube, let alone in a minute & 10 seconds! I'm on the hunt for a prodigy violinist next ;)
 

Finishing the Grueling Paperwork:

So if you have read any of my previous posts about applying, you know that this hasn't been the easiest process, to say the least. My life has become a constant example of Murphy's Law but against all odds, I have successfully arrived here in Korea and will be starting work on Monday! But I'll get to that later.

After my whole "setback" that I wrote about before (getting put behind 6 weeks because my fingerprints for my FBI criminal background check were "too low of quality") I got my fingerprint done again at the police station (WAY more legit). I sent my prints back to the FBI and included a handwritten letter begging whoever read it to PLEASE try to process them as quickly as possible and that my job and essentially, future, depended on it. So maybe the FBI happened to be in their slow season or something, but I'd like to think that someone had a heart and sped the process up a bit because 3 weeks later, my background check was in the mail! 

So long story short, I emailed my agency, Footprints, telling them that I had all my documents and that I could pretty much start as soon as possible if a position became available - and what do you know, the next day, they emailed me back saying that there was a position in the same group as Nate (by the way, Nate was all set to go & would be leaving mid February to do orientation and then start teaching on March 4th).

Moral of the story? Stay hopeful and positive that things can turn around because it's always possible! Granted, I spent a good amount of time sulking and wallowing because I thought I hit a dead end - but I at least continued with the entire application process and it ended up working out! So thank you to my mystery hero at the FBI who helped me, you're a LIFESAVER!

So here it is future English teachers, EVERYTHING you'll need in order to get your visa and finally board that plane to your next adventure:
    Click HERE to be redirected to my new site - First For Everything - for information on all documents needed, booking a flight and packing. 

A Few Things I Miss AlreadY:

  • Target - mainly the overall concept of going to one, single store and purchasing everything you will EVER need. 
  • Vegetables - I don't know if it's not in season right now or WHAT, but the vegetables here are limited.
  • ANYTHING IN ENGLISH: Imagine going to a completely different city with no car, no map, no internet and essentially, no CLUE, whatsoever. One can use their basic instincts and common sense to navigate the town and find a shopping outlet or bar. Or you know, they can ask a nice-enough looking civilian for directions. Here in my new home, barely anybody speaks a lick of English and there are a lot LESS signs and words overall in my native language than I had hoped for. It has been an adventure in itself trying to figure out public transportation and interpret these crazy hieroglyphics to find a store that sells a curling iron (which has been unsuccessful, by the way). 
  • Internet on the Reg - need I say more?
  • Soft Mattresses - Apparently, Koreans enjoy sleeping on stiff boards (with no fitted sheets).
  • & of course, my Friends & Family. Miss & love you all! 
 
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Didn't someone say the best things in life are free?
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Amazing scenery in Fiji & Australia

For more, visit my new blog :)

 
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Singapore Skyline
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Marina Bay Sands Hotel
After being in the Philippines for a week and enduring the most wretched airport facilities in Asia, we arrived in the cleanest country in the world (or at least the cleanest in Southeast Asia) - Singapore! I've never been so happy to be in a first world country. Not that Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines weren't amazing, but I was just looking forward to not seeing massive cockroaches on a regular basis. Singapore is a very modern, small city-state south of Malaysia and above Indonesia. It's an incredibly wealthy state with a high GDP and third highest per capita income in the world. Unlike previous countries we were at, it is extremely clean, urbanized and developed.
We arrived at our "cheap" hotel, which was near $100 and considered cheap compared to the other hotels (such as the Marina Bay Sands - pictured above - which would easily be around $400 a night). Oh yeah - no more third world countries means no more $25 [clean] hotels, unfortunately.
Our time in Singapore was short and consisted mainly of walking around the Marina - which is where their main big city area is. It's also where the famous Singapore Flyer is - AKA the biggest/tallest ferris wheel in the world. This actually wasn't a traditional ferris wheel, which was slightly disappointing, but more of a giant room that rotates around the wheel very slowly. You walk through basically a little science museum for a floor or two until you board the giant rotating room and the next 30 minutes are spent looking out the glass walls to the entire country of Singapore (this country is TINY.) It's 165 meters tall and may or may not have been worth the $30 it cost, but we really couldn't go to Singapore without going on it. 
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View from the top
We walked miles around the city and came across a super modern outdoor theater on the water with a live band playing, a ginormous mall with a "Bellagio" type water show next to the bay, the unique Gardens by the Bay and an amazing art museum where we saw a photography exhibit featuring "Magnum Photos", whose mission is to "chronicle the world and interpret its peoples, events, issues and personalities." We spent a few hours here and saw various photographers' collections - ranging from photos of the urban, dark side of Tokyo, to portraits of people in desolate places in Poland. 
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That crazy white building behind us is the Art Science Center
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Gardens by the Bay
At night, the city is beautiful and there are tons of restaurants and bars to go to. We were semi-conned into eating at a seafood restaurant right on the river (one thing that's the same as the other countries in Southeast Asia - people are very pushy) but the two free drinks each made it worth it. We ended up deciding to go to Malaysia early, due to the costliness of Singapore and the lack of money that we had after 4 weeks of traveling. Singapore was just too expensive for us.
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Helix Bridge from one side of the bay to the other
We left Singapore around 11pm and boarded a bus that would take around 5 hours to drive to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We found this bus online and it cost around $25 - there are tons of different buses online ranging from standard "charter" buses (which we took - seats reclined far back and made it comfortable enough to sleep the entire time) to buses/trains with rooms that people can sleep in beds in. Those ones weren't too much more but we weren't too fussed over a 5-6 hour bus ride. 
After getting woken up twice in the middle of the night to walk through customs with our passports and luggage, we arrived at Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur at around 5am to take a cab to our lovely 5 star hotel. The Le Meriden cost less than our cheap hotel in Singapore, which by the way, had the SMALLEST room I've ever been in in my life. The only thing that fit in it was a queen bed. No joke. 
Anyway, 6am was too early to check in so we worked out at the gym and enjoyed the ginormous pool, jacuzzi and waterslide outside until our room was ready. We were back in the glorious inexpensive part of Southeast Asia so this meant lots of room service slash food getting delivered to us. Not gonna lie, we were pretty exhausted from traveling and did NOT mind just lounging around our hotel for a couple days doing absolutely nothing :).
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KL probably had the worst weather throughout the trip but we didn't mind watching lightning storms from our room with a view like this. You can see the city through the fog in the back.
We still did attempt to check out the culture and luckily, we were located right outside the city next to the train station. The first mistake I made was my choice of attire. I didn't know that Malaysia had a HUGE Muslim population but I definitely figured that out instantly after boarding the train and having dozens of FULLY clothed women stare at me wearing a summer dress. Whoops. I definitely attempted to be more modest after that experience.
Nate and I went on a walking tour of the city to become a bit more familiar with the culture, which I absolutely would recommend. It's called the "I Love Malaysia Heritage Walk" and we went around the whole city and our guide showed us different landmarks and gave us a brief history for 90 minutes. There are different tour options and we just did the free Heritage Walk (limited spots so reserve beforehand!). 
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(left) Merdeka Square & the Sultan Abdul Saman Building on the left. (right) Kuala Lumpur City Gallery
We walked around their Chinatown and the Central Market and did some good shopping at their street markets and ate delicious local food - stingray and a claypot dish with rice and chicken. We shopped more after eating and in an attempt to buy a cheap DVD to watch at the hotel that night, we literally almost got Taken. Yes, Taken. We were on the main street of Chinatown shopping around and this guy asked if we wanted to buy some DVDs. Nate said yes and so this Asian guy leads us to these shops down an alleyway (not even a secluded alleyway - there were still a bunch of other shops there) and into his "shop". He wanted us to get at least 10 movies and we weren't down so we turn to leave and the entrance where we came in was now a wall. It was one of those little garage places where they can pull down the door and so they locked us in and kept saying that "customs" was outside so they had to close the door (AKA their van was driving up to kidnap us in). Nate argued with them and started trying to unlock the door himself until they finally let us out (where customs was NOT). Sketch.
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Shopping in Chinatown
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Waiting for our stingray & claypot dish to be made!
There were a couple amazing temples we saw as well. One, we accidentally stumbled across while venturing to Chinatown, called the Sri Mahamariamman. This temple was built in 1873 and is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia. We also went to the Batu Caves, which were limestone caves that had hindu temples built inside - you just had to climb the ridiculously tall staircase to get inside. Malaysia is extremely hot and humid, just like the rest of Southeast Asia, so this was an incredibly daunting task. It was somewhat worth it when we got inside. This temple is pretty trashed because it's super touristy. Still pretty cool, regardless.
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Temple & entrance to the Batu Caves
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Temple inside the limestone caves
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Staircase
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Sri Mahamariamman

Top Things to do in Singapore & KL, Malaysia:

If you're looking for....
CULTURE:
  • Malaysia Heritage Walks - amazing volunteer guides who love their country & give great walking tours
  • ArtScience Museum in Singapore (they had a crazy lego exhibit that was opening a week after we were there. We were suuuper bummed we missed it and are determined to go back to Singapore specifically for this exhibit)
  • Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur has amazing local food
  • Singapore Marina - great nightlife & tons of bars & restaurants
  • Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
SHOPPING:
  • Pavilion Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur if you want most name brand stores. Huge, GORGEOUS shopping mall but the prices are about the same as, if not more, than America.
  • Chinatown & the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur - right next to each other. Tons of cheap shopping along the street markets in China town where you can get ANYTHING. Lots of souvenir & novelty type shops in the Central Market
  • Shops at the Marina Bay Sands - just like a Vegas hotel with a river running through it, every designer store imaginable, live music and a casino
SITE SEEING:
  • Singapore Marina - amazing views of the city on the waterfront, such as the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel. I'm sure this hotel wouldn't have a terrible view either from its infinity pool on the roof. Walking around the entire bay has incredible views as well.
  • Singapore Flyer - panoramic views of the entire city. 
  • Malaysia temples - Sri Mahamariamman & Batu Caves temples
  • Petronas Twin Towers, KL - didn't get the most amazing view of these buildings because it was raining but pictures I've seen look awesome.
Goodbye Asia, until next time:)
 
Our week in the Philippines didn't exactly start out as planned - as in it was COMPLETE disaster. Remember how we talked about our Flying Mishaps - which can be summed up to "you get what you pay for"? Well this is where one of our budget airlines SCREWED us.

Original Plan: Fly into Clark, take an 8ish hour bus ride at 10pm to Banaue where we would arrive at the beautiful rice terraces early morning where we would spend the day. Then take the same bus back that night where we would get back to Clark the next morning and then fly to Boracay - AKA paradise. Well our flight got changed to 3 hours later, causing us to miss that bus so instead, we decided to just take a flight early the next morning from Clark - Boracay. Meaning we would be spending the night at the airport.

We've already had PLENTY of experience sleeping at airports so we weren't too fussed over this. Unfortunately, this was an airport like no other, thus far. Only international flyers were able to be inside the airport (which did NOT include us since we had a layover in Clark) so we were stuck outside. With cockroaches and dozens of other humungous bugs EVERYWHERE. And I'm talking GIANT FLYING cockroaches. We were going to take turns sleeping (we didn't want to get robbed) and as exhausted as I was, there was no way I was sleeping with cockroaches creeping around every corner in the hot humid weather. Yes, it was the middle of the night. No, this didn't mean the humidity wasn't 80%.

So after 8 hours of terrified exhaustion, we finally board the plane to take a 45 minute flight to Kalibo, where we then waited for a bus to take us 2 more hours to a dock where we boarded a "bunka" boat. This 15 minute boat ride finally landed us in Boracay! And the 15+ hours of traveling was worth it to get to paradise.
White Beach, Boracay had THE most BEAUTIFUL white sand and clear (yet incredibly turquoise) perfect-temperatured water I have ever been in, in my LIFE. And this is including Fiji and Thailand. Yes, it was probably the most humid place we had been so far, but that just meant more time spent in the water, which was probably around 80 degrees.

We were halfway through our trip and probably spent the majority of our money, so this was just an excuse to be completely lazy and lay on the beach all day, which we definitely did. I was completely content with going for a morning swim, laying on the beach drinking $1 happy hour cocktails, napping under the sun, going for another swim and then watching the sunset. 
After a few days of this, we did decide to partake in a few activities - with a bit of coercion from the dozens of guys harassing you on the streets. We booked a sailing trip around the islands followed by horseback riding at sunset at about $40 a person. A few Filipinos came on the sailboat with us and we cruised around for a few hours and ended up riding right into a storm. It poured on us for a good 20 minutes and then literally cleared up within 5 right after. We also snorkeled a bit but the rough waters and lack of fins made it a bit difficult.
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Snorkeling with Marlon & Nemo (if you look reeeal hard, you can find them!)
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Our semi-sketch boat with tarp sails
Horseback riding later was a lot different than I expected it to be. I thought we would arrive at some ranch and we would just be riding through big fields. After taking a little "tuk tuk" (their little baby cabs) to the stable, we arrived at a dirty farm with a few kids manning the horses. Without so much as a brief introductory (I've never been horseback riding before), we were jumping on our horses and were on our way. Instead of riding through fields, we actually rode down the street and then into what I guess were the neighborhoods. The streets had sporadic housing which was basically just a small shack with an entire family living inside every half kilometer or so. And I'm talking, 8 by 8 feet HOUSES with families of 5 living in them. Clothes lines were connected from houses to trees and little kids were running around everywhere. People were sleeping in the dirt under trees with babies wrapped in their arms. I felt like an asshole riding around on a horse because all of the kids would come chase after us a few dozen yards when we would ride past them. 

I did notice a lot of families cooking and having big get togethers at the larger houses I saw. There would be heaps of people gathered outside these houses drinking and celebrating birthdays and such. But these were rare. Poverty was the majority of what we saw.
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Tuk-Tuk cabbies
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They were absolutely INSANE drivers
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Leaving the stable!
The rest of our trip was spent wandering through the shops, lazing around on the beach even more, finding authentic Filipino food (most of the food on the touristy island of Boracay was BBQ and seafood kind of food), eating, finding happy hours and playing pool. Which are all some of my favorite past times so I was completely satisfied.

Boracay may not have been the most exciting destination we went to, but it was still an amazing experience. Extremely eye-opening for sure. Maybe I'm a little biased because it's my "homeland" but I just couldn't believe the poverty there. And this is at the most touristy place in the Philippines. I can't even imagine what the REALLY poor places are like. There are about 94 million people in the Philippines and of those, 70% are living in poverty. That's almost 70 million people possibly living in the dirt, not knowing when their next meal is going to be. 
I definitely want to come back to the Philippines and stay a lot longer. Boracay was gorgeous but I'd want to get a more authentic Filipino experience. Although, there really was nothing better than being able to walk 100 feet to the beach, wear nothing but a swim suit, be able to go dive in the ocean at any point in the day or night and choose from the happy hours as cheap as 30 pesos a beer (which is less than a dollar). The people are so nice and hospitable, there are tons of shops, bars and restaurants, and the view didn't suck either :)
 
Election time. The time when my Facebook newsfeed is full of everyone's opinions, people saying they don't want to see everyone's opinions & of course the many pretentious posts about people thinking they're better than everybody else because they may know a little bit more about what's going on. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about getting educated, especially about things that affect us all directly on a daily basis. But no, I don't really want to read your arrogant posts about you saying everyone else is an idiot for not having your same views.

But hey, I guess I'd rather have my newsfeed full of opinionated people that are at least watching the news every now and then (although unfortunately that probably includes Fox News half the time) than people going on about ridiculously idiotic reality tv shows like The Bachelor. Yes, political (& definitely sports) talk/rants > reality tv gossip BY FAR (funny how a person usually will fall under only one of those categories).

People always go on about how they "wish they could filter their newsfeed" or how they're sick of people blowing up their Facebook about a certain sports game and so on and so forth. Why don't you just get off Facebook maybe? Obviously I am one of the millions that are unable and unwilling to delete my Facebook, but I am also not bitching about how much I hate it. Perhaps I am right now, I suppose, but at least it's not on Facebook exactly? The reason I like blogging is that people have more of a choice whether or not they want to read what I have to say. Granted, we all have always had this choice but Mark Zuckerburg somehow convinced us otherwise. But you know what I mean. It's not deliberately in everyone's faces.

So my actual intention of this post - before I started ranting about how annoying people are - is to say that we are all actually very blessed to be able to have different opinions. We are lucky to be living in a country where we are able to contribute to the laws that are passed and the people who ultimately represent us. A lot of people think that the electoral college is stupid and that it doesn't give us a real vote or that there's no point in voting because it won't make a difference. But if everyone thought that way, then it would make a HUGE difference. Not all of us live in Ohio, but there IS more to voting than just voting for president. (And imagine what a nightmare it would be if every democrat in California decided that their vote didn't matter.)

We will all never agree on everything, especially on who we think is fit to be president, but that's the beauty of our country - that we're perfectly entitled and have a right to our opinions.

I've been traveling around Southeast Asia and have never felt so blessed to be an American. You don't realize how lucky you are until you're walking around third world countries and see the mass amounts of poverty. Until you see dozens of families sleeping in the dirt with infants cradled in their arms. And then you go back to your hotel room when it starts pouring down rain and you have no idea how that family manages storms like that on a regular basis without shelter.

In America a lot of people won't give money to homeless people mainly because they'll probably just spend it on booze. Some people say that they put themselves there because of drinking or drugs. Don't get me wrong, I usually have the same opinions. But I've never seen poverty like the Philippines. Where you know that they didn't choose the life they have. There wasn't a choice - that's just life.

We are all so lucky to live in a country where we have so many rights and freedoms. A country that fights to keep the poverty level and unemployment rate down. It might seem silly to compare The United Stated to third world countries, but the point is that we're lucky. That's all. People in a lot of these countries know nothing about the kind of freedom we are privileged to have.

So I try to consider that more before I open my mouth and argue about a stupid "NObama" post. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, no matter how idiotic or ignorantly they may display it. At least they have an opinion.
 
6 days, 3 people, 1 camper van. This living situation definitely took some getting used to but it ended up working out quite well.

After exploring the North Island earlier this year, I knew I had to come back to see the South Island since everyone kept telling me it was 10 times as beautiful. 6 days spent there has officially convinced me to want to move there for at least a year, or however long I can handle the cold. Every bit of this country is incredible, from the snow capped mountains, to the rolling green hills to the black sanded beaches. We spent hours upon hours driving (from Christchurch all the way north up to Abel Tasman Park and then all the way south to the Fiordlands) and every bit of the drive had amazing scenery. I didn't feel like any time was wasted driving so much because the road trip in itself was a beautiful journey.

After leaving Christchurch the day after arriving, we picked up our camper van and were off to Nelson. And we = boyfriend, his mom and I. Our camper van was super cozy and had everything we needed - a little kitchen, bathroom (with shower!) and 2 beds (Britz Campervans - very reasonably priced too). I wasn't so keen on the whole bathroom idea and never actually used it except to shower. Yes, I prefer to pee in a bush (slash the side of the road in the middle of the night) than use a trailer toilet.

We stopped in Nelson and wandered around the town and ended up coming across a parade for their Annual Arts Festival. We were soon off to Abel Tasman National Park and went on a hike the next morning. There's a TON of different hikes at Abel Tasman with the longest taking 3 days. Our 7 hour, 22km hike took us through a jungle-like trek with small waterfalls, streams and a beautiful view of the ocean.
The rest of the day and part of the next was spent driving to the glaciers. We stopped at Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier to do a short hike at each to view the glaciers. They're ridiculously large but the open hikes only let you within 200-500 meters so it was kinda hard to grasp how big they were. A pamphlet I got showed the Eiffel Tower in comparison and it was TINY compared to the glaciers.
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Franz Josef Glacier
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Fox Glacier
We got back on the road and headed south to Milford Sound, which is part of the Fiordlands. This place is definitely on my top most beautiful places I've ever been to in my life. The Fiordlands are ridiculously large mountains jutting out straight from the ocean. They were formed by glacier activity over 100,000 years ago, which created the super steep cliffs. The tallest is around 1690 meters, which is about a mile tall. The tallest waterfall is 180 meters - three times as tall as Niagra Falls! (pictured below) When it rains, there are thousands of waterfalls coming off all of the mountains but there are only a few permanent ones. 
We did a kayak tour through the fiords and learned all kinds of cool stuff about them. They all have crazy forests growing sideways off the cliffs off virtually no soil. The roots go into the cracks of the granite and grow enormous forests where animals such as penguins live. It's part of the ocean so it's mostly salt water but there's a layer of freshwater on top coming from the mountains. It accumulates a lot of dirt and plants on its way down and so it creates a dark layer of water which then tricks the marine life into thinking they're much deeper underwater than they are. So Milford Sound has a lot of really cool coral and fish as shallow as 10 meters that's usually over a hundred meters deep. 
This kayak trip was by far my most favorite part of the trip and easily one of the coolest things I've ever done. It's amazing how enormous the mountains are and how steep the cliffs are right out of the ocean. You can barely grasp how ginormous they are because the largest mountains are a bit further away and so they seem close but it would literally take hours to kayak to because it's such a massive area. Our guides asked us how far away we thought the tallest waterfall was from where we were when we were in the middle of the fiords. What we thought was maybe 2 or 3 kilometers ended up being 9 kilometers away, showing us how much our size perception was off because of how enormous the mountains were.

After the fiords, we headed to Queenstown for dinner. This was the most quaint little city surrounded by snow capped mountains.

Definitely wouldn't mind living in this beautiful country. There's so many things to do and amazing things to see. What's better than a country that has beaches and mountains and everything in between? I love New Zealand :)
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our campervan!
 
One look at my iPhone weather app and I knew that this rare occasion of beautiful weather MUST be spent outdoors. The boyfriend’s mother is also visiting so this doubled as an excuse to make the trip to Phillip Island for the first time since moving to Melbourne.
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Located about 140km south of Melbourne, Phillip Island is a popular tourist destination, most notably known for the “Penguin Parade”. This unique experience allows visitors to watch the famous “Little Penguins” (AKA the smallest species of penguins standing at 33cm tall and the only penguins native to Australia) waddle ashore from the ocean, dart across the beach and wander into their burrow homes.

Photography/filming was strictly prohibited at the Penguin Parade but this is a short clip of the Little Penguins eating at the Melbourne Zoo!
We, of course, had to plan this trip out to fit our spontaneity, budget and time limitations. Spontaneity equaled expensive accommodation because of last minute planning, which didn’t agree with our budget. Work commitments also didn’t allow us to stay longer than one night but any kind of public transportation would take hours. Solution? Rental car! Goodbye $250 accommodation for ONE night and 32038413-hour-long public transportation and helloooo $47 rental car! (Thank you Europcar Rentals!) This would allow us to drive there and back in one day at 2 hours each way.

Since the Penguin Parade is shortly after sunset (the Little Penguins have to wait for it to get dark to make it more difficult for predators to catch them), we started our day off hiking Cape Woolamai. This 3 hour (including time for photo opps plus appreciation of natural phenomenon’s), 5.5km hike brought us to a spectacular view of Phillip Island and The Pinnacles (bottom, left photo), as well as to the highest point on Cape Woolamai. For people that love hiking, this was definitely worthwhile, although not very challenging. If you’re in for a good walk and a breathtaking view of natural rock formations, then this is a must. If you’re looking for a difficult and dangerous adventure, then well, I heard you can climb these crazy steep rocks. 
After dinner, we headed for the Penguin Parade. We debated getting the “Penguin Plus” seats, which seated you in the very front, but were perfectly happy with our general admission tickets which allowed us a good view to watch our adorable little blue friends scurry across the sand in groups of about 20-25 and up towards their homes. The Boardwalk, or walkways back up to the main building, was the best part. We got as close as possible to the little guys in their natural environment, saw them interact, sit on their eggs and heard a little too much of their “mating” sounds (September is apparently mating season).

We also got to learn “heaps” about Little Penguins. While out at sea, they eat HALF of their body weight every day. During incubation periods, the male and female take turns sitting on the eggs (usually 1 or 2) and switch off every 3-4 days. Since they eat so much (imagine eating 50+ pounds of pizza every day…yummm), they are able to hang out for those few days while their spouse swims about. This conservation center also overturned the myth that penguins mate for life. They actually have a 17% divorce rate and often find new hubbys/wives every year due to divorce & mortality rate.

Tips?

Get there at least an hour early to get good seats! This was probably the main advantage of the Penguin Plus tickets – they were lead to the front right before sunset to avoid sitting in the cold for an hour/hour & a half. But the difference of tickets: GA=$22 // PP=$44
 - One thing that might make a difference for you is the fact that they are a not-for-profit organization so all proceeds go to the penguins:)

Do NOT bring food – I witnessed one of the dozens of crazy, ravenous sea gulls land on my boyfriend’s head and steal pizza out of his mouth. Seriously. This was the LEAST I have ever enjoyed eating pizza, having to guard it from hovering, fearless birds. They strictly prohibit photography inside/on the beach and as much as I wanted to photograph the penguins, capturing the moment where a bird steals my boyfriend’s pizza definitely takes the cake.
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End of our hike:)
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I was desperately wishing there was one underneath our car.. (no luck)
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Watching the surfer's at Woolamai Beach
 
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One of the my absolute favorite parts of Melbourne that I can NOT get enough of is the street art. Graffiti has such a negative connotation - unless you live in Melbourne where it is a widely accepted form of expression and one of the most popular and creative forms of art. I realized today how precious this type of art is when I walked down one of the most notorious graffiti laneways, Hosier Lane. This street is across from the Atrium entrance of Federation Square and has some of the city's best street art. 

The last time I was here was a few months ago. As I walked down the alley way, it was like it was the first time I had ever seen it - and then I realized that's because essentially, it was the first time ever seeing it. Most street art gets painted over eventually - which makes sense since it's public domain. As tragic and senseless as this concept of painting over & defacing art seemed at first, I began to realize that it was all part of this urban culture. It makes the street art of Melbourne that much more exquisite - that it is ever changing. You can essentially never walk down the same laneway twice because there is always different artwork to see. It makes the city a permanent [not-so-blank] canvas that artists can continue to create amazing things out of.

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Hosier Lane 19 March 2012
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Hosier Lane 21 September 2012
Had I known at the time that I had already photographed this laneway, I would have attempted to get the same exact angle/shot so I could compare. There's always next time:)

Some of my Favorite Street Art I've Come Across:

CBD Laneways

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This laneways is opposite of David Jones
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Hosier Lane - Mar 2012
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Hosier Lane - Sept 2012
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The Atrium from Hosier Lane
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Flinders Lane
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Centre Place

Random/Unknown Places

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If only I knew what bar this was taken at...
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Bike trail along the river between Bridge Rd and Victoria Victoria St

Brunswick Street Laneways

Chapel Street Laneways

 
Six Days of Fiji.
Definitely not enough time to see all the beauty this country has, but enough to fall in love with it.

Nathaniel and I flew into Nadi, which is on the main island on Monday, June 18, after a looong journey consisting of closed airports (damn you Avalon Airport - always fly Tullamarine in Melbourne, it's not worth paying less to fly Avalon!), waiting for them to open at gas station cafes, sleeping on airport floors, and racing to catch our connecting flights. Our first stop was the Hilton Resort, also on the main island. Our funds limited us to only one night here, but I'm glad we were only on the main island for a night since there are so many islands. The Hilton was GORGEOUS. 7 pools overlooking the ocean and beautiful rooms. We spent the day by the pool reading, drinking and watching the sunset.

After continuously checking the weather in Fiji weeks prior to leaving, only to finally accept the fact that it would rain 5 out of the 6 days we were there - we were welcomed by perfect, sunny, warm weather. It ended up raining a total of 1 morning we were there and the rest of the time we were blessed with the best weather we could ask for.
The second day we went on the South Sea Island Cruise, which wasn't so much a cruise but more of a ride to South Sea Island where we would spend the day. This little island was beautiful and TINY. You could walk around the entire thing in 5 minutes. Day 2 was spent going on a glass-bottom submarine, snorkeling, drinking our unlimited supply of alcohol (included in the cruise package), kayaking, laying out and eating. It was my first time ever snorkeling, which was amazing seeing all the underwater life. They took us on a boat to snorkel the outer reef, which was 10 times more amazing than the reef right on the island. After missing our boat back to the main island and having to catch a separate ride, then getting lost on the way to our second accommodation, we arrived at Tropic of Capricorn, which was....no Hilton. 
We only spent one night at Tropic of Capricorn and then we were off to the Yasawa Islands. Well, we tried, anyway. We arrived at Denarau Port, which is where all the boats depart for all Fiji islands and attempted to get on our boat, only to get rejected because our travel agent failed to let them know we were supposed to depart that day (Fiji only has one boat to go through all of the islands - departs once a day for the far islands like the Yasawas. Make sure you're booked for the exact days you plan on departing/arriving or else the boat might be full!). Luckily, they made room for us and we started our 4 hour cruise to the northern islands. 

We got to pass through all of the other islands, which was awesome for the first half until I started getting sea sick. It was all completely worth it when we arrived at Blue Lagoon Resort on Nacula Island. All white sand, completely clear water, a beautiful resort and a welcome song by the Fijians. We snorkeled, hung around the beach and then had dinner. Everybody at the resort has dinner together and so we sat with a Kiwi family and the Fijian people served us our delicious dinner.
We started the next day off with a snorkeling trip on one of the Yasawa Islands outer reefs. We took a boat out about 20 minutes out and then all jumped out into the middle of the ocean. The reef here was, by far, the most amazing reef we had seen yet. The water was a little bit cooler - so about 77 degrees or so? (Compared to the 80 degrees at the shore... and compared to the 65 degree water in San Diego). After snorkeling for about an hour or so, we rode the boat closer to shore where they did a "fish feeding". They had us all jump out of the boats and then threw this corn bread/cake kind of stuff where hundreds of fish swarmed us to get the food. It was the craziest, scariest experience ever being surrounded by so many fearless fish. They're completely harmless, hungry fishies, but I was still slightly terrified they were going to eat my face.
After the snorkel trip, we went on a hike. The island was much bigger than South Sea Island and was pretty "hilly" so we wanted to hike up the hill to get a good view. From the resort, it didn't look very high and so we decided to go on our own. What I assumed was a brief stroll up a hill (in flip flops - or barefoot in Nate's case) ended up being about a 5 mile, treacherous hike. Okay, not so treacherous in regards to steepness or even general difficulty at all - but we were literally walking up a mountain of reeds taller than me. Granted I'm not very tall, but they were a pain in the ass, to say the least, and made this allegedly leisurely stroll extremely unpleasant. Of course, the view made up for it at the top. You can't complain about a hike (oh wait, I guess I just did..) when you see this from the top.
Our last night on Nacula Island, we had another delicious dinner and then did crab racing with wittle baby hermit crabs! They had us buy a hermit crab (FJD$5 - which would be donated to the schools on the islands. & BTW - their conversion rate is a little over half. So $5 Fiji = about $2.65 USD/AUD) and then all of them were put on the sand where a circle was drawn out. First to make it outside the circle wins. Our hermies made it to the final round (1st 12 to make it out of the ring the first round) and one of ours ended up getting 4th - not too shabby, but unfortunately only 1st-3rd got prizes. 

The next morning, we went on a tour to the Sawa-I-Lau Caves. We took a boat about 30 minutes out and after our janky boat died about 3 times, we finally made it to the caves. We got out of the boat onto shore and then walked a short ways to a man made staircase that lead to the opening of the cave. You climb up and then back down the staircase into the cave. The bottom of the staircase is just water so you have to jump into the water. After our tour group of about 20 debated about who would jump in first (our guides decided to let us endure the entering part on our own while they waited by the boats), a girl around my age ended up going and we followed her in. The ceiling of the limestone caves were super high and we couldn't feel the bottom either. When the entire group was in, half of the group went through the underwater tunnel, which was about a meter under water and 2 meters long, into the other caves. One of our Fijian guides was on the other side with a flash light, and the other guide was on our side to help guide us through. I had a slight panic attack but made it through fine without somehow getting lost in the tunnel and drowning. 

The other side of the caves were completely pitch black. It was also mildly terrifying because images of all of those scary movies where the tourists go on these adventures and then a boulder blocks the entrance and they all die - were involuntarily flashing through my head. 
After buying some souvenirs made by the Fijian people and packing up our stuff, we were off to Island #4: Bounty Island. We decided to stay one night here - it's a smaller island close to the main island and it would be convenient for transportation to the airport the following day. Bounty Island was surprisingly nice. We had low expectations after our maaany hours spent on tripadvisor.com and other Fiji resort review websites. Not that these sites had so many bad things to say, but we were expecting a low budget resort on an island not nearly as amazing as the Yasawas. The resort may not have been as nice as Blue Lagoon or Hilton at all, but the people there were one of the nicest we had met. All Fijian people are super friendly and hospitable - everywhere you go, they all greet you with "Bula!" (which is their normal greeting). The Fijians at Bounty Island were especially friendly and really made you feel comfortable and at home.

We arrived in the late afternoon, so we mainly just lounged around the beach and bar. The dinner wasn't amazing but they sang us songs throughout the entire meal, which more than made up for it. After dinner, most of the people at the resort, including the employees, hung around the common room area and played various games like monopoly or pool ("snooker", as the Aussies say). A lot of people gathered around the shore for a while taking pictures of the little baby sharks that swam right up to the sand.

The next day we left Bounty Island, all too soon, and were back on our way to the main island. We hung around Denarau Port until leaving for the airport where we had to say goodbye to this beautiful country.
FIJI DOs & DON'Ts:
DO pack light (just carry ons) - the weather is usually so warm anyway and you'll be in your bathing suit 80% of the time! (& you'll save $ on not having to check luggage!)
DO visit the outer islands away from the main island - they're more expensive but definitely worth it! The Yasawa Islands were the definition of PARADISE.
DON'T be scared of the crazy humungous bugs - even though I was. The bird-sized bug that resided in the bathroom for almost 24 hours prevented me from being able to use the bathroom without an escort (AKA boyfriend).
DO bring your own alcohol - duty free!! It's cheaper this way and will save you lots of money.
DO bring a waterproof camera/go pro - hence all of my amazing snorkeling pics ;)
DON'T forget to negotiate a cab price before getting into the cab - they sometimes try to rip off tourists. Cabs shouldn't ever be more than about FJD$30.
DON'T stay on the super small islands for more than a night or two. They're small and you'll run out of things to do.
DO island hop as much as possible! Our original thought was that islands are islands, but each of them have different personalities & different things to do!
DO bring bug repellent - I got eaten alive.