Category Archives: Travels

Year in Photos 2018

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. In some ways, I agree. When you snap a picture, you freeze a moment in time. You capture the essence of the experience so that when you look back at them days, months, years later, the details conjure up the feelings of that moment. As much as I love writing my stories, I also challenge myself to tell a story through the photos I take. The angle and framing of the shot, what you include and what you don’t, and the focal point all contribute to the story. To my story.

I love reflecting on the past year through photos (you can click here to see my year in photos from 201720162015, and 2014). The process of looking back over the photos from the past year takes me on a reflective journey and I smile, remembering the memories once again. 2018 was full of family, friends, food, and travels- all of my favorite things. Without further delay, here’s my year in photos, in chronological order.

Traveling is My Life

Ever since I was little, I’ve dreamt of a life where I get to travel the world, seeing far off places and taking in new experiences. I honestly don’t know where this idea came from. I mean, I grew up in a smallish town in Texas and other than road trips (mostly in Texas), my family didn’t travel much. It’s crazy, but I didn’t go on my first plane ride until I was 16…and that was only to Tennessee! But for whatever reason, I felt this constant pull to just go.

After a couple of international trips in college (to England and Germany), I fulfilled a lifelong dream when I picked up and moved to Australia- Sydney to be exact- right after graduating from college. Australia has and will always hold a special place in my heart, and Sydney is such a beautiful, magical place that you can’t help but fall in love with it. I ended up moving back to Texas after my half-a-year adventure living abroad, where I gained a ton of life experience and independence. It was, after all, the first time I lived anywhere but my childhood home.

Teaching in a suburb of Houston was exciting and I had many positive experiences during my time there, yet I always felt like something was missing. It wasn’t a constant feeling, but it came often enough that after 6 years, I finally listened. That pull to just go was back. I answered it by applying to a little school nestled in the Shanghai Zoo, and knowing nothing whatsoever about China, I picked up and moved halfway across the world.

That was in 2010, and here I am in 2019 still living abroad, just in a different country now. While that first year in China was one of the hardest of my life (the culture shock I experienced was no joke), I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This life has afforded me so many opportunities to travel to places I wouldn’t have even imagined as a child, allowed me to meet some of the most interesting and influential people who’ve become my tribe, and stretched me beyond my comfort zone in more ways than I can count.

I tell anyone who will listen that traveling is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. By travel, I don’t mean take a cruise or go to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. I mean really travel. Experience how other people live, talk to locals, get lost, feel the heartbeat of a city, try new foods you’ve never seen before, and travel alone at least once in your life. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to 5 continents, live on 4, and experience 39 countries and counting. Take it from me, you owe it to yourself. I’ll say it until the day I die, life isn’t meant to be lived in one place.

 

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This is ‘2010 Jen’ showing off my fancy new bike in front of my little school in the zoo in Shanghai…man, those were some good times. But those bootleg jeans…yeah, no! 😛

Little India #sol18

Craving a taste of Indian food, I headed toward Little India. The bright, in-your-face colors, vibrant aromas, exploding flavors, and make-you-wanna-dance songs drew me in.

After stopping for lunch, I hit the streets, following my whims. Pulled this way and that, distracted by the Indian music blasting from every other shop and the sights, colors, and smells grabbing for my attention, I meandered through the streets, in and out of shops.

The midday sun beat down on me, forcing me to retreat to the shade whenever possible. Passing a small shop, a man outside chopping coconuts caught my eye. As I stopped to watch him artfully maneuver his knife with quick, successive movements, I noticed the sign claiming “the best coconut milkshake in Malaysia” was sold there. Hot and dripping with sweat, I gave it a try. Watching the lady mix fresh coconut water, fresh coconut meat, ice, and vanilla ice cream together, I just knew it was going to be tasty. It was indeed! I was so busy drinking it, that I forgot to take a picture. Guess I’ll have to go back tomorrow to get a pic!

As I wandered through the streets, I happened upon some of Penang’s famous street art. The whimsical paintings mixed with real objects drew a small crowd of tourists all vying for their turn to snap a photo. I was no different.

As I sit here, alternating between writing this slice and sopping up my Paneer Butter Masala with naan, I am wondering what tomorrow’s adventures will bring. While there’s no plan, I know for sure it’ll include some delicious food!

Hawker Stalls #sol18

Walking into the open air food court, a myriad of smells hits you all at once. Clusters of people from all walks of life sit on stools, laughing, sharing a variety of food. Wandering through the stalls, you’re not quite sure what you should try. Japanese ramen? Thai curry? Indian naan and curry? Chinese stir fry? There’s something for everyone.

Unable to find decent Indian in Jakarta, I opt for a vegetarian Indian platter with a pile of basmati rice, three different curries, dum aloo (dry cooked potatoes), and the butteriest, flakiest naan I’ve ever tasted. Diving in with my hands, I quickly devour most of my plate. Delicious!

After tonight, I’m looking forward to my next hawker stall meal in Singapore! What will I try next?

The World Through My Eyes #sol18

Next week is Spring Break, and I’m really looking forward to my trips to Singapore and Penang, Malaysia! I’ll even get to add another country to the list…Singers will make #36! Since I have been thinking about my trip, I started reminiscing about my past travels, which prompted this poem. Rather than write about every country I’ve visited, I decided to limit to places I’ve been in the last two years. In no particular order, here’s my poem, a glimpse of the world through my eyes.

The World Through My Eyes

Indonesia is motorbikes, gado gado, macet, and the call to prayer.

Belgium is waffles, street art, and fruit beer.

Albania is colorfully-painted buildings, a perfect mix of old and new, and all the fresh fruit, veggies, and bread you can eat.

Montenegro is rocky beaches with crystal clear water, road trips, and weekend getaways with the girls.

Hong Kong is dim sum, the mid-levels, lots of hills, and like China, but better.

Mexico is beaches, pina coladas, and tourist traps.

Italy is stunning architecture, gelato, and literally the best homemade pasta of your life.

Canada is water taxis, clean and manicured, and friendly.

Senegal is bright colors, traffic, pushiness, and sand everywhere.

USA is home, comfort food, baseball, and familiarity.

Thailand is the land of smiles, tuktuks, mango sticky rice and kao soi, and three-showers-a-day hot.

The Netherlands is the most amazing cheese you will ever taste, bikes for days, and canals.

France is croissants and crepes, The Lourve, and walking two hours to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night.

Morocco is an assault on the senses, mint tea, and getting lost in the medina.

Just a Trip to the Hospital… #sol18

Even as I waited for the bus to arrive, tears filled my eyes, knowing what was to come. Despite being somewhat of an irrational fear, I couldn’t stop the worry of the dreaded needle from taking over. As we headed to the hospital, my friends and colleagues tried to distract me, chatting about last night’s Oscars, memories from when we all started together last summer at ACG, and the usual friendly banter that occurs with people who are familiar with one another.

To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that in order to process our work visas for next year, we had to have drug and HIV testing done (and pass, obviously). I’ve only been to a clinic and the dentist here in Jakarta, which I assumed wouldn’t be too different from a hospital. I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumptions. I had forgotten one crucial difference. I had visited Western-style clinics, and we were going to a local hospital today.

Upon arrival, we were taken to a large waiting room to get a number (much like you would at the deli counter at your local grocery store back home). Swarms of people filled every available seat, fanning themselves from the heat. Those who couldn’t fit inside were perched outdoors on the rows of metal seats. A few unfortunate souls were laid out on stretchers, outside in the heat (not that it was any cooler inside, but being outside seemed worse to me), while their loved ones fed them something that looked a lot like porridge. There was even a man in a wheelchair who had his leg propped up, an old piece of wood underneath acting as a splint.

As we stood in the middle of the waiting room, taking it all in, sweat slowly dripped down my back, and I was reminded of earlier this morning when I was getting dressed and debating whether I should wear long pants and a cardigan, seeing as hospitals are notoriously cold. I thanked myself for choosing the skirt and sleeveless shirt today.

A little while later, our driver ushered us over to another building, where we assumed the ‘VIP’ area was. We came to find out there isn’t a VIP area at this hospital. While we waited outside chatting (and sweating), we were just thankful we weren’t in that other line. We did have to get back to work at some point today. When we were finally called in, the fear came back, but it was short lived as I realized this building was for checking your weight and blood pressure and signing your name. The five of us each took our turn, and then it was onto the next one (building, that is).

As we made our way through the throngs of people seemingly waiting in lines, we were met with another large, overflowing waiting room. Taking the only available seats, we ate our snacks (thankfully, we came prepared!) and waited. A little while later, we were taken to a smaller, yet still crowded, room to wait in line for our blood tests. In the middle of the communal room, the numbered stalls sat waiting for people to be pricked. I guess privacy wasn’t a top priority here. As we stood in line right in front of the door, so as not to lose our place, we were constantly in everyone’s way, shuffling this way and that way. The heat and the screaming babies only added to my anxiety.

One by one, people were taken to a vacant stall to be pricked (i.e. stabbed) with a needle, the line inching forward with each prick. Rebecca went to the toilet, and upon her return, informed us that there was no soap or towels in the bathroom. As in they don’t exist there, not as in they’re out. I’m disturbed that the hospital where I was about to have a needle put into my arm doesn’t have soap in the bathroom. My wavering confidence took another nosedive.

My turn. I begrudgingly followed the attendant to stall #4, where I apprehensively sat down. Armed with funny videos on my phone and Rebecca and Miriam’s constant stream of conversation to distract me, I steeled myself for what was to come. After triple-checking that the nurse was using a new, clean needle and gloves, I looked away and shut my eyes tight, bracing for impact. I felt the needle pierce my skin, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d built it up to be. A few seconds later, it was over, and I didn’t even cry!

Our last stop was at yet another building, which, to our surprise, was blasting cold air, clean, and virtually empty. Here we were asked to fill out paperwork, pee in a cup, and talk privately with a doctor. The doctor’s chat was a bit unusual. We were all asked basically the same questions, with a few variations. The most interesting bits from my conversation were:

Are you drink alcohol? Yes, occasionally.

What? Vodka or Whiskey or… Ummm…rum I guess, and sometimes cider.

Are you drug user? No, I’ve never used drugs before. (What an odd way to ask that…why not ‘Have you used drugs before?’)

Show me your arms. (She then checked for track marks before recording “Track marks- negative.”)

How about your feeling now? (After realizing she was asking about my mood…) I’m just fine.

You have hallucination? No.

Or delusion? No? No.

Okay finished!

I’m always intrigued by the different experiences I have as an expat. Before moving abroad, I took for granted that basic things like going to the doctor, shopping, and getting around town could be so different. I just assumed the major things like the type of food, language, and locale would be different, but culture runs deep and seemingly little things can be a whole new experience!

Home Sweet Home #sol18

Since moving abroad in 2010, I’ve lived in 7 different homes- four apartments in Shanghai, an apartment in Albania, a studio apartment in Bangkok, and now a house in Jakarta. Each one has special memories for me, but I didn’t love all of them. My first apartment in Shanghai had its issues and wasn’t my favorite, and my studio apartment in Bangkok was so tiny. However, all of the others had things I loved about them. Despite this, they all pale in comparison to my new place in Jakarta. For the first time since moving abroad, I finally feel like I’ve built a home here.

Every other place I’ve lived in has come fully furnished, which is nice in that I didn’t have to buy furniture, but it meant I had to fit my style with the style of the apartment, which wasn’t always easy. I mean, you can put lipstick on a pig, but at the end of the day, it’s still a pig, am I right? When I moved into my house in Jakarta, I was provided with minimal furniture, which was daunting (and costly) at first, but the opportunity to make it my own has meant that it truly reflects me and my style.

I moved to Jakarta in mid-July, and while I slowly made a few purchases as I found pieces I loved, navigating the shopping choices in a new country was tricky and, at times, frustrating. I was so blessed when my Aunt Alva and Uncle David came to visit in September, with the main purpose to help me with decorating my home. My aunt has a really great eye for it, and they were a huge help! Don’t worry, it wasn’t all work; we had lots of fun along the way, too. The space they helped me create is inviting, bright, colorful, and warm- just the vibe I was going for!

Come on in, I’ll take you on a virtual tour.

First off, I love the grounds of my complex. When you enter, the noise, traffic, and general dirtiness of Jakarta melt away. In fact, the lush environment is more reminiscent of Bali than Jakarta, and it brings a calming and peaceful feeling. I simply love sitting by the pond to do some work, and I love swimming in the pool (when it’s not too cold…brrr!).

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Here’s the outside of my house. To the left of all the greenery is a staircase up to the entrance. There’s also an entrance on the ground floor.

My favorite room in my house has to be the living room/dining room/kitchen. No contest. I absolutely love the floor to ceiling windows that bring the outside in. Surrounded by greenery makes me happy, and the 100 year old tree out my window is the best! As a traveler, I love to collect pieces of art from around the world. I love that my home is a reflection of my travels and my personality- bright and colorful!

Having a proper kitchen also makes it much easier to cook and entertain, which brings me joy. All of the teak wood furniture and the hardwood floors brings a warmth and is very Indonesian. I had fun finding just the right pieces to work in the space. Anyone who knows me knows I love real plants, which is why I have loads in here. They just bring so much life to the space!

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My house is on two levels. The top level houses the living room, master bedroom and ensuite bathroom, one guest room, and one guest bathroom. The lower level has two additional guest rooms, another guest bathroom, maid’s quarters (bedroom, bathroom, kitchen), and a few outdoor spaces. I have only really decorated the top floor, as that’s the floor I live on. I’ll get to the bottom floor in time, but for now, it’s pretty basic.

I am so happy with the way the guest room turned out! My vision of a Moroccan-themed room came together very nicely. Having made a trip to Morocco in 2015, I used the art and wedding blanket I bought there, had a few of my photos I took put on canvases, and used lots of blues and whites to create a tranquil space for my guests. So far, everyone who’s stayed has loved it!

The built-in bookcases in the hallway houses many photos and trinkets I’ve collected on my travels. I also have lots of room to add more!

Now onto my room. First off, my room is unnecessarily huge. At first, I was unsure how to fill the space. Aunt Alva had some really great ideas, and it doesn’t feel as cavernous now. My favorite thing has to be the windows (again) that let in lots of natural light and the beautiful greenery outside. I love listening to and watching the rain out those windows. I also really love the bathroom with it’s beautiful bathtub, large shower, and ample storage space for all my stuff. My room has a Myanmar theme, as I’ve used art and photos from my two trips there. My favorite photo I’ve ever taken hangs above my bed. It’s of a fisherman on Inle Lake at sunset. I absolutely love Myanmar, so having my room remind me of it makes me happy!

Thanks for coming on the tour with me! I love to host guests, so if you ever find yourself in Jakarta let me know. Hotel Jennifer is always open! 🙂