One of my annual traditions is reflecting on the past year through photos. Here are my past year in photos reflections- 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. While I love telling stories through words, pictures are a great way to tell my story, too.
2020 was a year like no other, as we all know. While most of my previous year in photos include pictures from all the places I traveled that year, 2020 was the year of quarantine, therefore I have fewer places than usual represented in this year’s reflection. I started out the year in Texas, flying back to Jakarta via Dubai on January 2nd. I was able to travel to Borobudur and Lembang in Indonesia before we were quarantined on March 2nd. I went back to Texas in May, where I spent the summer, and then moved to Jeju, South Korea in July. After quarantining in Seoul, I spent the rest of 2020 in Jeju, apart from a couple of quick trips to Seoul. Here are the highlights of my 2020, in chronological order. Which ones are your favorite?
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.
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.
Scribbling, researching, erasing, scribbling, researching some more, narrowing down the choices, matching up the dates, looking for the best deals, working into the night, a weight lifted as I finalized my summer plans.
My adventures will take me on a trip around the world this summer. Like, literally around the world. I’ll visit 6 countries, take 10 flights, traverse 29,803 miles, and spend 73 hours traveling on planes and in airports plus many more to and from said airports, all in just under 6 weeks. It’s insane when I think about it, but it’s also going to be a lot of fun!
My Summer 2019 Plans:
2 June- Jakarta to Hong Kong
I’ll spend two nights in Hong Kong visiting friends and eating at my favorite restaurants.
4 June- Hong Kong to London (arrive 5 June)
London stopover for 36 hours, during which I’ll stay in Piccadilly Circus and watch ‘The Book of Mormon’ at the Prince of Wales Theatre, a show I’ve been dying to see.
6 June- London to Tirana, Albania
I’ll spend 5 nights/4 days in Tirana with a friend, where I’ll visit old friends and wander around the city I called home back in 2015-2016, visiting old haunts and taking note of all the changes. I’m really looking forward to going back to a place that I left on such a sour note, now that I’ve moved on and can look back on the fond memories I had there.
11 June- Tirana to Paris
Ahhhh, Paris! I’m so excited to go back to this city that I love, only this time with my cousin Katy. She flies in the day after me, and we will spend a week sightseeing, walking, and eating our way through Paris. We’ll take in my favorite sights, such as the Lourve, D’Orsay, Montemarte, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower, plus a day trip to Versailles. I can’t wait!
19 June- Paris to Calgary, Canada
Katy and I head out together from Paris, but part ways at JFK, when I head to Calgary as she goes back to Texas. I’m so looking forward to spending time with Shaggers, Jeezy, and Marlowe in their new-ish home in Okotoks, near Calgary. I haven’t seen them since 2016, unless you count the many FaceTime calls, so this is going to be a special trip!
24 June- Calgary to Texas
My trip wouldn’t be complete without some quality time with my family in Texas. In addition to my dates with Randi and Logan (a tradition started years ago), movies with my dad, mani/pedis with my mom, dinners with old friends, and the Kesler Family Reunion on the 4th of July, I’m ready for some of my favorite foods that I can only get in Texas- chips and queso, Shipley’s donuts, and Tex Mex food.
11 July- Dallas to Hong Kong
Fifteen hours being trapped in a metal tin can. Oh joy! 😉
12 July- Hong Kong to Jakarta
What I’ll look forward to most when I come back home after nearly six weeks away is my own bed and a bit of routine after a wild, crazy summer!
With my summer plans completed, I’m now looking forward to planning the smaller details, such as where we will stay in Paris, who I’ll see in Tirana, and where I’ll eat in all of my destinations! More to come, I’m sure.
Those of you who know me or who have read my slices in the past know I love surprises. When someone goes out of their way to surprise me, it lights up my day. But you know what I love even more than getting surprises? Being the one to surprise someone else!
I’ve been planning a surprise for my cousin Katy for about a year now. The surprise was going to be for our fortieth birthdays (we are three days apart, y’all!), but since I’m not sure what will be going on in my life 2+ years from now and because I’m impatient, I figured why not, let’s make it a 38th birthday surprise. Not exactly the same ring to it, but what the heck, a surprise is a surprise, right?
Last summer, Katy and I were texting as I wandered the streets of Mandalay on my solo trip to Myanmar. I snuck in an question that would have normally raised suspicion, but since I was traveling and we were talking about “travely” stuff, it seemed innocent enough. I asked her where she would go if she could go anywhere in the world. Her top five places were Italy, New Zealand, France, Brazil, and the Maldives. This information stayed tucked away in my mind.
Seeing as I went to both New Zealand and Italy last year, the Maldives are more of a romantic getaway, and Brazil is just too far away (for now), that left France. Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world, and as they say, Paris is always a good idea. So, after talking to my aunt (Katy’s mom) about whether she could help watch Katy’s kids this summer (she will!), I called Katy up this morning.
After catching up for a bit since we hadn’t talked in a while, I hit her with the surprise.
“Remember when I asked you last summer about where you’d like to go if you could go anywhere?”
“Well, I was gonna wait to do this for our fortieth, but I figured it’s a good idea to do it now. How would you like to go to Paris with me?”
“I’d like to take you on a trip to Paris this summer. Would you like to go?”
With tears in her eyes, she excitedly said, “Yes! I’d have to be crazy to say no to that! Are you sure?”
Laughing, “Yes, I’m sure.”
Since she was so shocked, it took a little more convincing to make her understand I was actually serious.
At the end of the conversation, she said, “You’re the coolest cousin ever!”
Right back atcha Katy! Love you so much and can’t wait to explore one of the most dynamic and beautiful cities in the world with you. Paris, we’re coming for ya! 🙂
Quality time with friends. Delicious food, so much delicious food. Beach bum status. Familiarity mixed with newness. These are what I can expect to experience in just a couple of weeks.
After a long stretch without a holiday, a break is needed. Short-tempered, exhausted and run down, with less and less energy at the end of the day. Stretched thin, the cracks are beginning to show.
What once seemed impossibly far away is now within reach. Eleven more school days. Fifteen actual days. Spring Break is on the horizon. With a plan to spend time in some of my favorite places with some of my favorite people, I’m beyond excited.
I’ll be heading to Bangkok for the first part of the week, where I get to reunite with Callie, eat all the Penang curry, Kao Soi, and mango sticky rice I can, and visit my old students. Being surrounded by familiar people and foods is comforting, and Bangkok is a place that brings me joy.
After my short visit in Bangkok, I’ll be meeting up with Linner in Bali, one of those places you just can’t help but love. Linner and I always have lots of fun together, and I force her to take an insane amount of selfies. It’s a wonder she still loves me! While I’ve been to Bali several times, it won’t be the same since we’ve decided to try out a new city, where we can both experience new things.
In Sanur, we’ll be near the beach, where I’m sure we’ll spend loads of time. Balinese food is so fresh and delicious! I hope we are able to try out all of the restaurants I’ve found. What I’m most excited about is finding the perfect place to stay! We decided to splurge a bit on the hotel to treat ourselves, but since we’re splitting it, it’s worth it (even though we’re splurging, it’s only 130 USD total per night). Karmagali Boutique Suites is a five-star hotel and the #1 place to stay in Sanur according to Trip Advisor, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be spectacular!
Here are a few pictures of our hotel:
Look at that pool! I’m confident this is going to be my new happy place. 🙂
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 2017, 2016, 2015, 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.
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.
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! 😛
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.