Category Archives: Travels

Stuck in a Korean “Covid Jail”

“You have to stay here,” the woman in the hazmat suit said.

“But I need to catch my connecting flight to Jeju, where I live. It leaves in two hours. I can’t stay here,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady and show that I was in control of my emotions, which I most certainly was not.

“No. You stay in Seoul. PCR test.”

“But, I have a negative PCR test result from America that I took before boarding the plane. I will take the PCR when I land in Jeju.”

“No. You cannot go to Jeju. Stay here.”

End of discussion. No more bargaining. I was taken to a cubicle by another hazmat-suited worker, where I would remain for the better part of two hours. I was given a new mask to wear, one that had two thick rubber bands to hold it in place and cut into my face, leaving marks. No water. No food. No access to a toilet. I was contaminated in their eyes. Someone to avoid, less I give them my germs, the ones that might contain Covid.

As I sat in my isolation chamber, becoming more and more restless and agitated as the time slowly ticked by, I called my boss, my friend, and my parents to tell them what happened and try to make sense of what would happen next. I called Korean Air to inform them of my detainment and inability to make my connecting flight, which I then lost.

After what felt like ages, I was finally given more information. I would be given a PCR test, taken to retrieve my luggage, and then take a bus to a temporary quarantine facility, where I would wait until my results came back. If I tested negative, I would be allowed to rebook my flight to Jeju, where I would be able to spend my 10-day quarantine in my own home. But if I tested positive, I would be sent to another quarantine facility outside of Seoul, where I would quarantine until I was told I could leave. Things weren’t looking good for me.

A little while later, I was escorted, along with a few other pariahs, along a corridor, down the elevator, and outside, into below freezing weather, to wait in line for what can only be described as the most invasive and painful PCR test I’ve ever had.

After getting off the bus at the quarantine facility, I struggled with my three large bags, as the hazmat suits stared at me, offering no help at all. To say the facility was depressing doesn’t do it justice. I walked down the fluorescent-lit hallway to my room, dragging my bags behind me. The door to my room opened onto a small “holding area,” beyond which was another door. My room was sparse, containing a twin-sized bed with a hard mattress wrapped in unclean plastic, a bedside table, a table and two chairs, a TV on a stand, a small fan, a wardrobe, a mini-fridge, and a landline phone. I had a basic private bathroom with a shower, a lone hand towel, and no soap (I’m in here due to Covid, yet I can’t wash my hands…the irony!). Luckily the wardrobe had a blanket and a pillow, so I didn’t have to lay on the plastic-wrapped mattress. I was shocked to find that the facility did not have wifi access, but I was lucky that I live in Korea so that I was able to use the data on my phone.

The only towel I was given. This was to dry off after my shower, too.

I was told the wait would be 8-10 hours. After a 15-hour flight, several hours in the airport, and the stress of the day, I tried to get some sleep. I was awoken abruptly around 2:00am by a gruff hazmat suit who stormed into my room without so much as a knock. In Korean, I was directed to sit at the table. For the record, I don’t speak Korean, but I figured it out using context clues and body language. A laminated paper was placed in front of me informing me that I had tested positive for Covid. Tears came to my eyes, fear and dread setting in. But I’m not even sick, I thought. I picked up the paper to read more information about what would happen to me next, but hazmat suit snatched it from my hands, barking, “No touch!”

The instructions said that I would be taken by ambulance in the morning to another facility in another (undisclosed) city for my quarantine. I was to take my luggage, but prior to leaving, I was to pack everything I would use in the next facility separately, as all of my personal belongings used at the facility would be incinerated upon my departure and any electronics would likely be damaged during the cleaning and disinfecting process. I would be responsible for all of the costs for the government quarantine, but no amount was given, as it would depend on the number of days I had to remain there.

The reality of the situation set in, and I couldn’t hold back my tears, as anger, frustration, and fear pulsed through me. My worst nightmare had come true. I’d heard about this happening, and I knew it was a risk for me to have traveled home for Christmas, but I hadn’t thought it would actually happen to me. I begged hazmat suit to let me out. I’d quarantine at home, I promised. “You can put an ankle monitor on me if you want. I won’t leave my house at all.” Every request was met with an uncaring “NO!” which only left me spinning out of control. I wasn’t even sick! I had a little bit of a stuffy nose, but that was it. Surely I’m not a danger to society. “Can I see my PCR result?” I asked through my tears, unsure how i could have tested positive after testing negative on twelve rapid antigen tests and three PCRs back home. Like every other request, it was denied. No amount of pleading changed her mind. Getting tired of my emotional response, she left.

I crumpled. Ripping off the mask, I sobbed, realizing that no matter what, this was my fate. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t rational. And the sense of injustice I felt couldn’t be squashed. The heat in the room didn’t help the situation either. Hot air blew into the room, making it nearly unbearable. I knew it was -11C outside, but I needed to crack a window. Damn! The windows were bolted shut. Probably to prevent an escape, I thought.

Look carefully at the flags…

After calling everyone (parents, friends, boss) to alert them to my predicament, I collapsed on the bed, mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. A few hours later, I was awoken again by my breakfast delivery, a ham and cheese sandwich and bottle of orange juice, along with two small bottles of water. I’m a vegetarian, which I told them when I was detained. No dietary accommodations were made here, they said. Orange juice, it is! Luckily I had a few snacks in my bag that I’d brought from Texas. Mostly cookies, chips, and candy, but hey, it was something.

That first day I was a fighter, doing everything in my power to get myself out of there. The ladies on the other end of my landline got so tired of me calling that they mostly just hung up whenever they heard my voice. The US Embassy tried to help, but they couldn’t make any headway either. As the day progressed, I realized I was stuck.

Lunch and dinner were the same, white rice with some sort of fried meat, kimchi, and three pickle slices. I ate the rice and pickles.

Due to a lack of space at the other facilities, I ended up staying there for four days. Without wifi, and not wanting to drain my data in case I needed it later, I was bored. I watched reruns of old crime shows, like CSI and Law and Order, that played on one of the three English channels. But mostly I slept. The heat was unbearable, and despite the small fan and lack of clothing (I only wore a tank top and pair of sleep shorts), I was burning up. I didn’t have a fever though. My thrice daily temperature checks I had to do confirmed that. After my numerous complaints about the heat and requests to turn it down, one of the hazmat suits brought me a large ice pack, which I would use to cool my body, moving it from my head to my torso to my feet. It helped some.

The days dragged on, and I felt like I’d never be free from that prison. On day four, I was notified that I would be transported to the new facility. My own hazmat suit, gloves, new mask, face shield, and booties arrived with my morning delivery. This is what I was to wear in the ambulance.

I couldn’t even pretend to smile…

To be continued…

Spring Break Plans

Everyone’s all a buzz at school about what they’re planning to do for spring break. It’s not for another three and a half weeks, but for the first time since the pandemic began, we can actually travel with little to no restrictions. It’s definitely cause to celebrate! We are allowed to leave the country, as long as we get the required PCR tests and re-entry permits, with no quarantine upon our return. Many teachers are going to Vietnam, Thailand, or Singapore. We are also now allowed to travel to the mainland (South Korea) for the whole week without a PCR test upon our return. During previous holidays, school has only allowed us to go for a few days without a PCR test (and I avoid those things like the plague…in Korea, they are incredibly painful!).

While I’d love to travel somewhere outside of Korea, preferably Thailand, I’m going to play it safe this holiday. I don’t want to risk testing positive on a PCR (I’ve had Covid and you can test positive for a while after) and/or not be able to get back into the country for some reason. I’m looking forward to traveling back home and to England this summer though!

I’m excited to spend half the week in Seoul and the rest of the time here in Jeju. I’ll fly up on Sunday and stay Sunday and Monday nights at the Grand InterContinental Parnas hotel in an area called COEX in the Gangnam district. It’s an area I visit often when I’m in Seoul, so I know how to get around easily. I’ll eat at some of my favorite restaurants, Paulie’s Pizza (it’s just like pizza back home!), Egg Slut (yes, the name is awful, but this breakfast chain from LA is delicious), and Cafe Mama’s (a Korean cafe with the yummiest ricotta salad). I’ll also partake in some shopping at the COEX mall, where I can find some of my favorite shops that we don’t have here, like H&M and ZARA. I’m also looking forward to going back to my favorite salon, Juno Hair, where they treat you like royalty.

I’ll then move to the Grand Hyatt Seoul hotel in Itaewon, a trendy neighborhood in Seoul, for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. A couple of my friends are also going to be there, so we’ll have lots of fun walking the artsy streets and alleyways, shopping in boutiques and art shops, and eating at new restaurants. I love Plant Cafe Seoul, which is a vegan restaurant tucked away in Itaewon. I’ll do my best to persuade them to go with me. There’s also The Original Pancake House, which is like stepping into an American breakfast diner. One of my favorite night spots is a tiny place called Apt (for apartment). It’s got a really chill vibe, with old school jazz music and velvet couches, and the cocktails are top quality. I haven’t drank any alcohol in a long time, so I’ll have to see if they’ll make me a mocktail. While I’m staying at the hotel, I’ll probably try to squeeze in a relaxing massage too.

For the latter part of the week, I’ll be back in Jeju, where the weather has just started to be perfect. I haven’t made any plans yet, but I’m thinking a staycation on the west side of the island, a place I haven’t explored much yet, is in order. Since it’s not a Korean holiday, things are cheap and can be booked at the last minute, so I’ll probably play it by ear.

Here are a few pictures of Seoul from previous trips. Let’s see what I get up to this time!

Driving in Korea

It wasn’t until moving to Korea that I owned a car as an expat. Everywhere else I’ve lived has been a major city with easy access to public transportation, such as subways or metros, taxis, motorcycle taxis, and buses. I’ve also always used a bicycle as a major form of transport or walked where I needed to go. When I moved to Jeju island in 2020, it was obvious that I’d need a car to get around, as taxis are quite limited, buses run infrequently, and I live in a pretty rural area, so bikes and walking aren’t the ideal form of transport for most places I need to go.

For the most part, I like driving here, and I appreciate the freedom it affords me. No waiting around for a taxi, spending hours changing trains and walking long distances to get where I want to go, or having to plan my outings so meticulously. But there are some definite differences in driving here as compared to the US- some I’ve gotten used to and some that continue to frustrate me.

If you like to drive fast, you’ll be so irritated here! The maximum speed limit anywhere on Jeju is 80 km/hr, which is only about 50 mph. Can you imagine only being able to drive 50 mph on the highway?!? You might be thinking…yeah, but I’d just risk it and speed. Well, while there are no police cars virtually anywhere, nor have I ever once seen anyone pulled over for any reason, there are speed limit cameras EVERYWHERE. I’m serious…my car talks to me all the time to warn me about upcoming speed limit cameras and beeps incessantly while turning my music all the way down if I am over the limit (which is in itself a very annoying feature that cannot be turned off!). The only good thing is that you are warned about the cameras. The most annoying thing about the speed limits on the highways is that instead of a few speed cameras along the way, which would mean you could at least go faster when you are not near a camera, there’s this thing called a “boxed camera zone” in which you must maintain an average speed of 80 km/hr over a long stretch of road. Again, my car comes in handy by telling me the average speed I’m going, but if I’m even 1 km over the limit, the loud beeping starts and my tunes cut out, forcing me to slow down so that I can hear my music. There are cameras at the beginning and end of the zone which take your picture. If you are too fast (it’s based on time stamps from when you enter and exit), you get a speeding ticket in the mail. I frequently see people who’ve sped past me earlier pulled over on the shoulder just before the exit to wait so they don’t get a ticket. It’s bizarre! One last thing about speed limits…all school zones have a 30 km/hr limit (18 mph). It doesn’t matter what time of day or night, what day of the week it is, or if it’s a school holiday, you have to adhere to the speed limit or you’ll get a ticket.

Another tactic to reduce people’s speed is to install speed bumps on nearly all roads, even major thoroughfares. Whereas in the States, you only encounter speed bumps in parking lots, near school zones, at airports, and in some residential areas, here in Jeju, speed bumps are a way of life, popping up every few hundred meters on most roads. This means that I get to hear my car tell me “speed bump ahead” all the bloody time.

Everywhere you go people complain about other drivers and say they have the worst drivers, and while I’m not going to make that claim, I can say that Korean drivers are very selfish. They will cut you off, block the road and refuse to move, pull right out in front of you, even when you have the right of way, and take ages to park while you are stuck waiting on them (nearly all Koreans back into all parking spaces, which always takes more time). When you honk at them to signal your frustration, which I do (yet most others don’t, which I find really odd), you get what I call the ‘Korean car apology.’ They turn on their hazard lights in a half-hearted attempt to acknowledge they were in the wrong. Don’t tell me your sorry by flashing your lights, just don’t drive like an asshole! The thing that confuses me the most about the selfishness of the drivers is that it’s in complete contrast to how Koreans behave in any other setting. Koreans are the most polite people ever, always giving to others, using the best manners, and bowing out of respect to everyone. So to drive like they are the only ones on the road is a mystery to me!

The one exception to the selfish drivers rule is roundabouts. Now I know we don’t have many roundabouts in the US (although I think they are becoming increasingly popular), most drivers understand the basic premise of how to use them. When you come to a roundabout, you yield to the cars that are in the roundabout. Simple, right? Well, not in Korea. In Korea, they do the exact opposite. They drive as if the person entering the roundabout has the right of way. It’s a frequent occurrence for a car to come to a complete stop in the middle of the roundabout to let loads of other cars in, sometimes causing a traffic jam in the roundabout, which is what a roundabout is designed to prevent! Another common action is to barrel into the roundabout without even slowing down, regardless of if there are other cars in the way, and expect the cars in the roundabout to stop for you. Blaring the horn does little to deter this unwanted behavior.

Driving in another country is always an adventure, and while driving in Korea has its share of frustrations, I enjoy that I can go on little adventures around this beautiful island I call home. Have you ever encountered any odd driving rules or habits in other countries?

Disclaimer: I have only driven in Jeju, and while it’s in Korea, I’m not sure if these problems exist in all of Korea or if they are specific to Jeju.

What a Difference a Change of Scenery Makes

Weekends are always a time of respite from the workweek just gone and a time to catch up on the one coming. While I always take some time to myself on the weekends, usually Saturdays being my “no-work” days, there’s always that little voice in the back of my head reminding me of all I have to do, all I didn’t get done, and all the people I need to reply to, prepare something for, or support. I can push it down, but it never really goes away.

This weekend Frances and I came to Jeju City, a mere 45-minute drive away from home, to stay in the poshest hotel around, the Grand Hyatt called the Jeju Dream Tower. The hotel, which opened in December of last year, will eventually have 1,600 rooms open, but for now, there are around 500 open to the public. With 14 dining options, a spa, pool, and the most incredible customer service, it lives up to its name of being a dream.

There’s something about sleeping in a different bed that makes all the difference. The act of taking a purposeful break away from everyday life, stopping to pause and relish the luxury afforded to you in a place such as this, is good for the soul. As I sit here in the lobby cafe, sipping my iced chocolate, writing this slice of life as I wait for my massage appointment, I am content. I know that I have work to do later this evening to prepare me for the week ahead, but I’m completely at ease, the staycation having done its job.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve eaten at the Italian restaurant on the 8th floor, with a beautiful view of the bustling city below, where I enjoyed a spicy aglio e olio pasta with delicious ribbons of fresh parmesan cheese straight from Italy; taken two relaxing baths in the largest bathtub ever; caught up on my shows and slice reading/commenting that I didn’t get to this week; dined at the Steakhouse on the 38th floor, literally in the clouds as the fog settled in around us, where I indulged with two Moscow Mules, crusty bread with salty butter, a burrata salad, and some roasted asparagus and smooth, creamy mashed potatoes; had a lazy morning, sleeping until I woke naturally at 9:00am, feeling well rested and refreshed; ordered and enjoyed my first-ever room service breakfast, something I will definitely do again, as eating a delicious meal in my pajamas overlooking the city is so much better than hurriedly elbowing my way through a buffet; had a late checkout and a leisurely break at the cafe, listening to the sounds of the music playing, coffee brewing, and the adorable toddler wandering, laughing, and exploring.

As I leave you to enjoy my final indulgence, an hour-long foot treatment massage, I am quietly at ease, ready to tackle the next two weeks before Spring Break. I hope you were able to rest and recharge this weekend, too.

Rainy Saturday Adventure

Had I known it was going to be such yucky weather today, I would have postponed. Jeju is much better to explore on sunny, clear days. Today’s plan was to try out a new-to-us restaurant on the northeastern part of the island, Tennessee Table, which has a substantial Instagram following. Of course, we had to also make a pit stop on the way to get donuts at our favorite place, Randy’s Donuts, a chain from California that has *miraculously* made its way to our tiny speck of an island.

As we left, we noticed a blue-gray painted across the sky, but not a rain cloud in sight. Just as we were about to pull up to the donut shop, the rain began. “At least this means the line won’t be too long today. The rain will have kept people away,” we naively said. After parking (down the street, since Randy’s lot was full), we were shocked to find that the line was the longest it’s ever been, snaking around the back side of the building. Undeterred, we took our place at the end of the line to wait our turn. Forty-five minutes later, we had the goods. And before you say it, yes, the wait is worth it. These are some damn good donuts.

See the line behind me?!?!

After devouring the chocolate-covered one first in the car, we set the GPS for our next destination, Tennessee Table, which was about an hour away. The rain had given us a reprieve, and we were able to enjoy the cherry blossoms that seemed to pop up outside our windows as we cruised down the highway, singing along to my girls’ night playlist.

About 20 minutes into the trip, we were enveloped in a blanket of fog so thick you could only see about 2-3 car lengths in front of you. Slowing down considerably, I switched on the hazard lights to alert others to my presence. Jess, sitting in the passenger seat and free from the stress of driving through the soupy, barely visible sky, marveled at the scene, taking photo after photo of the eerie backdrop. As we drove through pine tree-lined backroads, I felt like I was in the movie Twilight, which seemed to always be covered in fog. The predicted time of about an hour took us longer in the end, but we made it to Tennessee Table for lunch.

Jessica, the owner, welcomed us in her southern twang, and her accent, coupled with the decor on the walls, reminded me of home. Jess had the chicken burger with fries and a milkshake and I had the veggie burger with fries and a coke. The food was delicious and lived up to its Instagram hype. Just look at the photos and you’ll understand.

We talked to Jessica, learning a bit more about her story. She has been in Jeju for 13 years, and after being a teacher for 15 years, five of which in Jeju, she decided to follow her dream of opening a restaurant, thus Tennessee Table was born. She, along with her Korean husband, built the entire restaurant themselves, which was very impressive, but something she said she’d never do again. After our conversation (including an unprompted “Bless your heart”), we headed back out. Stopping off in a Korean bookstore for a quick browse, we got back on the road.

On the way home, we made a detour to see the ocean, but the wind and rain ensured our visit was short-lived. The waves were much bigger than normal, which meant the surfers were out, but Jess and I agreed that you couldn’t pay us enough to get into that freezing cold sea on a day like today.

The ride home was a little stressful, as again, we drove through patches of dense fog, but we made it safely back to the GEC (our part of Jeju). We made one more stop on the way home to get Chai tea lattes from Grumpy Baby, a perfect end to the day.

Korean Grocery Store Finds

One of my favorite things to do whenever I move (and sometimes when I travel) to a new place is to scope out the grocery stores and see what they have on offer. I usually find some unusual things mixed in with the ordinary. Korea is no different, however as far as grocery stores go, I can find most of what I want to buy here (if I’m willing to pay the high price tag, that is), which hasn’t always been the case in my other locations. There are a few things I can’t find, but they are things I can live without.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite Korean grocery store finds.

How’d you like to buy 1 cantaloupe for $30 USD?!? Lucky for me, I hate cantaloupe!

Not sure what these are, but some people were cooking up these Korean snacks in the middle of the store. As far as I can tell, they are sandwiches, with cooked eggs acting at the “bread” part and meat and other fillings inside.

This sign totally made me laugh! I’m not sure if the sign is meant to entice the foreigners to buy the snacks or the locals, since foreigners buying them makes them more attractive.

There are sooooo many unusual Pringles flavors to choose from, but these caught my eye! I’m thinking the butter caramel ones might be good, but I’d definitely have to pass on the Sweet Mayo Flavour Cheese…yuck!

Now I’ve heard that onion tea is great for your skin and makes you look younger, but I don’t think I could stomach the taste!

This one is a peanut butter flavored drink, like a PB version of hot chocolate. I have some, but haven’t tried it yet. My friend says it’s pretty good. This is the Skippy brand.

Need a glass of wine, but don’t have a glass? Just buy the single serve version- glass included! 🙂

This one threw me off for sure. I’ve had peanut butter before, and I’ve had squid (not my favorite, but I’ve had it) too, but never in a million years would I have put these two flavors together! Would you?!?

This one is so weird for many reasons. For one, who buys 9 green beans at a time? Why do we need plastic packaging? And why do these 9 green beans cost nearly $2 USD?!? Needless to say, I didn’t buy them, but I have to say, I do miss eating fresh green beans. They must not grow them here or they must not be “a thing” in Korea.

Anyone fancy some seaweed flavored oatmeal?? I love it that it’s Quaker brand, too! 🙂

Have you ever seen anything at your local grocery store that made you laugh or wonder who in the heck would ever want to eat that?

Skydiving

Instead of writing about my quarantine life which seems like the real-life version of Groundhog’s Day, I’ve been digging back in my memory bank and thinking about my past travels. What comes to mind first is Australia, and despite how much I love it, I’ve not blogged much about it. One of my fondest memories of Australia is my first skydiving adventure.

As I waited in line to book my spot, I contemplated whether it was worth it. My money was running low, and with at least another month to go in Oz, I really shouldn’t be frivolous. I mean, $800 was a lot of money for a few minutes. I could do a lot with that much money. Weighing up the pros and cons, my dad’s voice echoed in my head. His last words before I moved to Sydney were, “Just promise me you won’t go skydiving.” I promised. And I rarely, if ever, broke a promise, especially to my dad.

It was my turn and a decision had to be made. Deciding I’d regret not doing it more than doing it, I thrust my only credit card at the cashier. The credit card I got right before I left. The one for emergencies only. The one with a $1,000 limit. Go big or go home, right?

Suiting up, I looked around. Everyone else had someone with them, someone to experience this once-in-a-lifetime adventure with. I wished I’d had someone else to share this with, but I didn’t let the fact that I was solo hold me back. I was raring to go. My tandem instructor came over to introduce himself. His smile and enthusiasm was contagious. Small in stature with a head full of grey hair, I wondered how old he must be. While I never learned his age, he did reveal that he had over 8,000 jumps under his belt, which put me at ease right away.

Climbing into the plane, I was struck by how tiny it was inside. And there were no seats…or seatbelts! This was unlike any plane I’d ever been in before. Strapped to my instructor, closer than I’d ever been to a stranger, we took a seat on the floor of the plane, very close to the other jumpers. While we waited for the pilot to get in position, they asked us who wanted to go first. No one volunteered, everyone looking at everyone else as if to say, You do it. “I’ll go first,” I found myself saying. I still don’t know why I said that.

Since I was first, I was seated nearest the door. With the pilot in position and ready for takeoff, the engine cranked and the propellors making it hard to hear, I shouted to my instructor, “I think they forgot to close the door!” I quickly learned that when skydiving, the door is left open the entire time. As we took off, I was acutely aware that I was mere inches from an open plane door, seated on the floor, without a seatbelt. The cold wind blew in from the opening, whipping my hair in my face, stinging me with its frigidness.

Once we reached altitude (14,000 ft), my instructor told me it was time. Seconds later, the photographer I hired to take video and photos of me jumped out. One second he was there, the next he was gone. I was scooted forward to the opening, where the coldest rush of air hit me in the face. “Are you ready?” he asked. Nodding my reply, he pulled my head back against his chest, and we jumped out. I expected to be scared, to scream from either fear or excitement, but no noise came. I just took it all in.

As we were free falling for what seemed like 10 minutes (in actuality it was 60 seconds), I reached out my arms, feeling the rush of the air, moving them around like a kid who rolls down the car window while riding fast on the freeway. Every fiber in my body was experiencing pure bliss at that moment. This was worth it. Worth the broken promises and the debt I’d have to pay off.

Once the ripcord was pulled, I felt a sharp jerk upwards, followed by a peaceful floating feeling, as we drifted back down toward earth. The view was incredible! I was skydiving in Mooloolaba, Australia, a small beach town, so the view below was one of ocean and sand. When I close my eyes, I can still see the mental pictures I took so many years ago.

As we neared the beach, I pulled my legs to my chest, as I skidded onto the sand on my bum. The videographer asked me, “So how was it?” My reply was unexpected. I didn’t scream or shout. Matter-of-factly I replied, “It was cool.”

I don’t have any digital copies of my first skydive, as that was back in 2004 and digital cameras were fairly new, but here are some shots from my most recent skydive in Taupo, New Zealand in 2018.

Africa

This April, I’ll be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I’ll write an entry a day centered on my theme of Memoir. I’ll be using  Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg as my inspiration for my daily topic. Each post will be a quick write (about 10-20 minutes) to help me notice and remember.

A is for Africa

Tell me about the time you went to Africa.

Entering our riad that night, exhausted from a day of travel and a hectic night of driving in an unfamiliar country, down too-narrow alleyways where I thought for sure we’d scrape the mirrors of the rental car on the walls, I was immediately taken aback by the beauty of it all. The outside revealed nothing of what we would see inside the walls. The vaulted ceilings were illuminated by intricate chandeliers, and the colors, textures, and shapes in the furniture, flooring, and decor were nothing short of breathtaking.

Waking up the next morning, with the sun streaming in from overhead, I was again stunned by the gorgeous surroundings. Following our breakfast on the rooftop, we set off to explore the medina, a series of twists and turns in a never-ending maze of alleyways, at times only wide enough for two people to pass by. As we went deeper into the medina, we found ourselves immersed in the sights and smells of the vendors hawking their wares and the fresh produce and spices for sale. Every turn revealed something new that caught our eye, an old wooden door, barrels of colorful spices, heaped to overflowing, or a storefront with beautifully designed pottery spilling out into the walkway, begging us to come in and take a peek.

But the food. The food is what really got me. From the tagines to the bastilla to the so-sweet-you-instantly-get-a-cavity mint tea, I was in love. Cafe Clock was my favorite find of the trip, an unassuming restaurant tucked away in an alley, with only a small orange sign to alert you to its presence. Upon entering, we immediately headed up, scaling the three flights of stairs to the rooftop terrace, an inviting area with comfortable seating and more plants than you could count. From there, towering above the medina, you could see out for miles. Down in the medina, where we were shielded from the sun, we were cold, but up here, the sun shone down on us and warmed our faces, bringing with it a smile or two. Their version of iced lemon tea, more a slushy than anything else, was frothy goodness, a mix of black tea, tart lemon, sweetness, and cold. Each time we ate there, I tried something new from the menu, but it was always paired with the iced lemon tea.

More Days Like This

Today was a perfect day. I need more days like this.

A Perfect Day

Morning slicing
No rush
Sunny and breezy
The wind in my hair
Ninety minutes of stretching and kneading
Melting into a Thai massage induced coma
A short walk through the familiar neighborhood
My favorite Penang curry by the lake
A bit too spicy this time,
But still delicious
Quick stop for some Thai snacks
Before heading to the pool
Water the perfect temperature for lounging
And catching up with not one,
But two friends
Sunkissed, heading back as the sun set
Showered and in our pj’s
Pizza, laughs, and Netflix
The perfect end to
A perfect day

Five Stages of Grief: Bangkok Traffic Edition

After landing in Bangkok, I breezed through immigration, and having traveled with only a carry on, I was chuffed with myself that I wouldn’t have to waste precious time waiting on my luggage. Ready to get to Callie’s, I made my way down to the taxi queue. What in the world are all these people doing just sitting around? Maybe they’re waiting on people to come pick them up, I thought.

Making a bee line for the booth, I asked the attendant for a taxi, showing them Callie’s address in Thai. She gestured for my ticket indicating it was my turn in line. Thoroughly confused by this new system, I grabbed a ticket from the machine. Number 614. Ah crap! The number on the screen was 567. The realization hits me that this is why all these people are waiting around.

Surprisingly, the wait only took 20 minutes, after which I was loaded into a taxi on my way to Callie’s. Since it’s Bangkok, I know I’m in for about an hour’s worth of traffic. As anyone who’s lived in Bangkok or Jakarta can tell you, travel time has nothing to do with distance. ‘How far away are you?’ is never a question met with 5 km. It’s always explained in time. Being 5 km away could be anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours depending on traffic.

Cruising along the toll road, we were making good time. The sun was out, so I picked up my book, diving back into the stories of Jack and Libby. As the sun started to set, I switched my book for some tunes, happily lip syncing along while I smiled at the city passing by outside my window. We’re making good time. I should make it by 7:00, just in time to go to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in the area.

No sooner had the thought passed through my mind, we came to a complete standstill. Red lights as far as the eye can see. Feeling myself getting frustrated, I tried to think happy thoughts, but the stop-go-stop-go wasn’t doing anything to calm me down. In fact, it only made it worse.

Well, maybe we just need to get past this one jam. We’ll pick up speed again, making up lost time. As the minutes ticked by, I kept making deals with myself, guessing what time we would arrive, adjusting the time frequently. Unsuccessful attempts to communicate with my taxi driver only fueled the frustration. How far away? “Close,” he said, whether he really believed it or not.

The maximum speed of 10 km per hour was taking its toll. I became antsy and resentful. Frustration built up in my chest. My jaw clenched. Looking at my watch only increased my anxiety. Staring at the red light we’d been stopped at for what felt like eternity, I willed it to change. Of course, it didn’t. Finally, I gave in.

I’ll get there when I get there. We’ll miss dinner. Callie’s probably wondering what happened to me. She’s probably starving and ready for a meal, too. Maybe she’ll have given up and eaten at home by the time I arrive.

After my driver missed the turn to Callie’s, I refused to let him make the u-turn and try again, knowing that would add even more time to the journey. Directing him with hand signals, I led him through the back streets and we eventually made it. Two hours after getting in the taxi, I was finally able to give Callie a hug! And, we made it for dinner.