Archive for August, 2011

Changpyeong Introductions

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

I’m halfway through my second week at Changpyeong and things are so different from how they were at Sapgyo High School. Two English teachers and the vice principal came and picked me up at orientation and we had a very long car ride to Changpyeong (a small town outside of Gwangju) so I was able to ask my super-awesome rockstar co-teacher (more on that later, I do literally mean rockstar) some questions:

“So what sort of reward systems do the teachers normally use?”
“Oh sometimes we give them candy, but mostly you can just praise the students.”
“Well then what sort of discipline strategies do you use?”
“Sometimes teachers will yell at students in class, but I prefer not to because they might lose face. Instead I just talk to them afterwards.”
“Oh, so no corporal punishment?”
“… um. No. That’s illegal.”
“Oh. NO right I know that right, I didn’t use it, I swear, it’s just that at my last school the teachers knew it was illegal but did it anyway.”
“…oh.”
“Yeah” awkward laugh “my school was kind of the ‘gangster’ school. For example, I had to lock up my belongings to make sure they wouldn’t get stolen. I think my headphones got taken once… does that ever happen here?”
“… no we don’t have locks. Our students are really well-behaved…”
“eh heh heh heh yeahhh.”

In all seriousness, I loved Sapgyo High School for all it’s strange quirks, but man, was it ghetto. Here the students follow dress code, no one steals things, no one has a tattoo or gauged ears. And the ENGLISH oh my goodness the ENGLISH level of the average student is incredible, especially considering this is a rural school. What happened is over the years more and more high level Jeollanamdo (name of the province I’m in) students started coming to Changpyeong, so it’s actually become kind of like a magnet school for gifted students. English is viewed as very important at Changpyeong, so 15 out of the 60 teachers are English teachers, which is an insanely high percentage.

For my first lesson, to get the students used to me and to test their English level, I had them write self-introductions on flashcards. First I introduced myself with pictures, then I told them they had to introduce themselves (without saying their names, because we would be playing a game later where we had to guess who was who) in full sentences. We brainstormed things to talk about (i.e. hobbies, family, career goals, etc) and then I let them go write for 5 minutes. I didn’t give them a sentence structure to follow, and other than my self-introduction I didn’t provide an example.

Some are funny: 

“Hello. Let me introduce my self. But I didn’t say my name. Um, I’m play a important role in class. My favorite subject is mathematics. And I’m good at leading classmate. Once upon a time I’m legend. I fought 1:100. I won.”

“When I was born, in 1994 Agust 11st, Typhoon named “더그” hit my region. So I think myself I am Tyhoon’s guy.”

“I don’t like K-pop because it’s so camericial and just dancing. My birthday is April first. It’s foolish day so sometimes my friends are don’t believe that true”

“my nickname is too sexy to introduce myself but I guess all of them in this class would know that.”

“My hobby is shower in dormitory (not home)… I proud of my self and I love me <3.”

Some are sad:

“My hobby is computer game. My hometown is Yeong-am. I want to go home.”

And some are really just sweet:

“First I’m happy for you to teach us this time. Students in Chang Pyeong can be mischievous sometimes, but please understand and embrace them and I’m surprised because my sister lives in Washington DC as a faculty of embassy. And I want to leave Korea because this country’s atmosphere is so rigid, hierarchic. And… I hope you adapt to this school well.”

“I want to rebuild the world.”

I teach way more hours (19 a week) so blogging probably won’t be as regular, but I’ll try to update as much as possible.

I’ll post pictures of my town when I get my camera cord in the mail (whoops).

Back to School Already?

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

I AM HAVING SUCH SEPARATION ANXIETY FROM AUSTRALIA!!!!!

Today is the first day of classes back at UMW and I cannot believe how quickly this year has flown by.  I definitely understand what my parents meant when they said that as you get older, time passes by more quickly. :(

I’m just going to sit here and post more pictures from my Australia adventure to make myself a little bit less sad.

 

Me by the Lagoon in Cairns City!

 

Me by the Sydney Opera House. It actually stopped raining for a few minutes so I could have a quality picture!

Dieter and I on the Skyrail to Kuranda over top of the beautiful rainforest.

Madre holding a baby saltwater crocodile!!!! They're so cute when they're little. ;)

Just hanging out with my friend at the Australia Zoo in Brisbane. R.I.P. Steve Irwin. :(

My momma and I got tattoos!!!! She got an adorable ladybug on her foot.

This was when it was still super swollen, but I LOVE it!!!

 

 

Looking at these photos makes me miss Australia even more.  Only 84 more days until Dieter comes to visit me and I get to be the one showing him around!!!  I cannot wait. :)

 

A wee bit in denial

Monday, August 29th, 2011
Hola todos!! Welcome to the wonderful world of Goldhammer’s thoughts. I am new to this whole blogging thing but it seems to be the thing to do when heading abroad so stay with me and I’ll try to keep you entertained. Having spent the past three days living it up in Freddy with UMW friends, it is hard to believe that I will be spending the next semester in a different country. It has been so easy to slip back into the routine of hanging out constantly and strolling down campus walk. Aside from the fact that I currently have no class schedule or even a definite idea of what classes I will be taking, I can totally picture myself starting the semester here tomorrow. But alas, my future holds two days full of packing and organizing followed by a day and a half of traveling. Let’s go! My flight plans include a quick trip from Baltimore to Philly, a long flight from Philly to Frankfurt, Germany, and then a final jaunt to Bilbao, España – my new home away from home. I am, of course, super excited to be starting this new chapter of my life and am starting to feel super grown up but I am also feeling slightly overwhelmed and apprehensive – guess that’s to be expected?? I know that I will miss the frisbee practices, trips to the nesty-poo, team dinners, and crazy study sessions. I will also miss having my family near by or just a phone call away but bring on the adventures… Europe here I come!! Lots of Love, Em

3 more days!!

Monday, August 29th, 2011
Hello everyone! First and foremost, if you are currently reading this, I would like to thank you for taking the time to check in on my blog! I hope that I will be able to update this regularly throughout my trip. Secondly, I hope everyone is doing well and recovering from Hurricane Irene. It may be a good thing that I am leaving the country with all these natural disasters haha ;) . Well, in just 3 short days I will be on a flight to the wonderful country of Spain! I am primarily excited, but as most of you could probably guess, I am a little nervous too. Just the newness of everything and the element of the unknown can be a bit overwhelming, but I know once I get there, many of those nerves will go away quickly. I am all packed for the most part. I have two large suitcases, both just barely under the 50 lb. weight limit, and a 40 lb. carry on. It was very hard for me to pick and chose what to bring, especially considering the fact that I will need a mixture of Summer and Fall/Winter clothes. Shoes were the hardest thing to pack, considering I could probably (and sometimes do) have a whole suitcase of just shoes alone! haha :) My flight leaves from Phili at 8:30 Wednesday night. I have a layover in Germany and will arrive in Bilbao on Thursday around 1:15 PM. I think I may be on the same flight as another UMW student, so it will be good to see a familiar face. I will definitely update my Facebook/Blog to let you know when I arrive safely! I also want to take this opportunity to let all of you know how much I will miss you! To all of my family and friends, I love you and I will do my absolute best to keep in touch. To my friends down at Mary Washington, I miss you guys already! Thank you for a great visit. A special shoutout to my roommates for giving me a place to stay and to all of Class Council for an amazing Glow Zone Dance! Leaving Fredericksburg was very hard, and a few tears were definitely shed. If I didn’t get to see you before I left, I am very sorry, and I can’t wait to see you when I get back! Last but definitely not least: to my Mom and Dad, thank you so much for all your support! I know I would not be going on this trip if it weren’t for you. Words cannot describe how much I will miss you guys, but all I can say is thank God for Skype and Facebook! To my little brother, Bran, do your homework and study hard! I’ll miss you, and whenever I don’t understand something, I will always remember your favorite Spanish phrase, “No se!” haha. I love you all so much! That is all for now! Love, Jen

Meet Me In St. Louis

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

I made my official and triumphant return to the United States on July 20th, and a little over a week later I found myself packing and boarding yet another airplane. Why would I do this you might ask. I had just gotten home! My travel lust had been effectively quelled!  So what could possibly make me want to sit on yet another airplane when I had just endured the most hellish cross continental episode of airline travel? A boy. Of course.

Currently my boyfriend, (that still feels super weird to say) Justin is in the Army, stationed at Ft Leonard

Wood, Missouri where he is completing his branch detail training in the Chemical Corp. I hadn’t seen him since he visited me in Sydney in late May and I had promised him that since he flew all the way to Australia to see me I could probably handle flying to Missouri to see him. I found a relatively inexpensive flight that left from Dulles Airport at 5 am (ugh) and sent me to Charlotte NC(which I’m sure is why it was cheap) for a layover, before finally landing in St Louis at Lambert International Airport.

I didn’t even bother going to sleep the night before I left since I had to be at the airport around 3 am. Thankfully my friend Ian had volunteered to take me to the airport so my family didn’t have to. My flights were all on time and I arrived in St Louis tired, but in one piece around 8 am. Once on the ground I had all day to rest and explore since Justin wouldn’t get off work until around 5pm and then it would be another two hours for him to drive from Ft. Leonard Wood to St Louis. We planned on spending the weekend exploring the city, and hanging out with his college roommate whose family lived in Chesterfield, a suburb about 30 minutes from downtown St Louis. I waited around all day until Justin showed up and then we went out to dinner, but having gotten up at 5 am, worked all day, and then driven two hours he wasn’t good for much else, so we went to bed early so we could start early the next day and explore St. Louis.

In talking to my friend Becky who makes frequent trips to St Louis to visit her boyfriend, and Justin’s sister in law Laura, who had also spent some time there, we had compiled a list of locations we wanted to visit. Becky had suggested the museum under the arch, the historic downtown courthouse, the City Museum, and some restaurants around town. Laura had made some restaurant suggestions as well, but strongly encouraged us to visit the City Museum as well. Neither Becky nor Laura had gone into great detail about what we could expect at the City Museum, but they both strongly advocated for it, saying that while it was really for kids during the day, after hours they served alcoholic beverages and it became an adult playground. We were sold on this idea after the two vehement endorsements we received, but we first had to fill the daylight hours.

It was a gloomy rainy day when we set out into the city on Saturday morning, but we were determined not to let this dampen our spirits. We first headed to the most famous St. Louis landmark- the Arch.

under the arch

 

Gateway to the West

 

We had no real intention of spending any money to go up inside of it, but we did want to check out the free museum underneath it which was all about Lewis, Clark, and Westward Expansion.

Museum entrance under the arch

Justin and I are both history nerds and can easily spend hours in a single room of a museum, so walking into this one we were very excited, only to be incredibly disappointed. When you walked past the giant stuffed bear at the entrance, you found yourself in a circle, and as you moved away from it in any direction, numbers on the ceiling denoted a different year in history. We couldn’t figure out if you were supposed to walk around the room in half circles back and forth, or if you were supposed to go straight back. We tried a little of each method, but neither made much sense. We tried to stay open minded, but then we ran into this befuddling piece of history.

What does Albert Einstein and the atom bomb have to do with Westward expansion? Anyone?

It’s a giant picture of the first atomic bomb being dropped on Japan, and a quote about it from Albert Einstein. What does this have to do with Lewis and Clark? None of the dates on the ceiling went past the 1800s so we couldn’t conceive how they might have thought the atom bomb belonged in this museum.  Justin and I speculated endlessly on this, but couldn’t come to any logical conclusion. We were willing to forgive this one misplaced historical oddity, but we kept finding them.

FDR? ok.....Still not quite sure what this has to do with Lewis and Clark

We puttered around the museum for a bit longer before finally becoming more frustrated than interested. We took a quick trip to the gift shop where we found all sorts of odd items with the image of the arch printed on them. There were coffee mugs, water bottles, sweatshirts, 3D puzzles, back packs and even DOG CLOTHES. I know there isn’t a whole lot to be proud of in the midwest, but really? This seemed a bit overzealous. It’s an arch people. As far as architectural marvels go its not really that exciting. One of my Australian program friends Andy, who I teased endlessly about being from Iowa and I were talking one night, and when I told him that I might be going to visit Justin in Missouri he said, “UGH! Missouri is AWFUL! Why would you EVER want to go there?!” Coming from someone from IOWA that meant something, and I was beginning to understand what.

 

Across the street from the Arch is the across the street from the historic courthouse, so we headed there.

Historic courthouse where the Dred Scott case was heard

The architectural details of this building were incredible, and it was all decked out in red white and blue so I felt like I had stepped into a set for The Music Man. The court house was not only beautiful, but it featured many great exhibits on the Dred Scott case, Missouri’s history, and the civil rights movement.

America!

 

ceiling

By the time we finished up at the courthouse it was closing time, and time to eat. Chuck’s parents had invited us to join them at a St Louis landmark for dinner, Blueberry Hill, a historic location near the St Louis Walk of Fame where Chuck Berry makes monthly appearances to perform and eat. After dinner Mr and Mrs. Long left Chuck in our care as we headed to a bar first, and then to the city museum.

Bus atop the City Museum

We arrived at the city museum around 10 pm and with our purchase of an admission ticket we were given a miniature flashlight key chain. Chuck had been before, but Justin and I hadn’t and we were stoked that we would need a flashlight for this venture. The city museum bills itself as a “museum consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, housed in the former International Shoe building. It is an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” Visitors are encouraged to feel, touch, climb on, and play in the various exhibits both indoors and out.

Outdoor jungle gym

 

Slides that start inside and go outside

A description and a bit of history from the museums wikipedia page: The first floor is home of the museum is home to a life-size Bowhead Whale that guests can walk through and view a large fish tank from the mezzanine. Also on the first floor, are a number of tunnels that run across the ceiling, hiding above a sea of fiberglass insulation cut to give the impression of icicles. To get into these one can climb up a Slinky, aka old refrigerating coil(donated by Anhueser-Busch), or through a tree house which leads into a giant hollowed out tree that leads to a cabin on the other side of the floor. The floor itself is covered with the LARGEST continuous mosaic piece in the US, which then morph their way up columns, consuming every section of this floor. In one area you will find a tunnel known as the “Underground Whaleway” which runs beneath the floor and into the “Original Caves.”

 

The Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shafts run through the center of the Museum, and go all the way to the 10th floor. In the Enchanted Caves, guests will find an elaborate cave system that was hand-sculpted. Everywhere you turn you see a different creature staring back at you. The Shoe Shafts were left over from when the building was the International Shoe distribution building. To get the shoes from floor to floor, staff would place the shoes on the spiral shafts that would lead down to the loading dock. When the caves originally opened up in 2003, there was only one spiral shoe slide that was three stories tall, but in 2008 a second one was opened, becoming the daddy of them all. A ten story spiral slide, that starts at the roof and takes you down to caves’ entrance.

The roof houses the bar and a small old fashioned Ferris Wheel that you can ride on. It also has a slide that goes under a small pond. The pond has stepping stones that go from one side to the other. The roof also has a school bus that had actually worked once, extending past the edge of the building. You can walk in the school bus, and open the door from the driver’s seat. Also found on the roof are a giant rope swing contained in a free-standing aluminum dome underneath the roof’s centerpiece; a giant metal praying mantis. You can climb a series of enclosed metal ladders inside the dome to an exit at the top.

inside

 

So much to explore!

The three of us spent upwards of three hours running around the museum like little kids on sugar highs. We had a glorious time, staying till they closed their doors at one am.

 

The next day we had breakfast with Chuck and then headed back down to Ft. Leonard Wood, so I could begin my trial run as a military housewife for the week.

Johannesburg

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

I’m sitting in the lobby of the airport guest house in Johannesburg, after an incredibly long flight.  I don’t really have much to say, because really, all I did was sit there forever. We stopped in Dakar, Senegal, which even the runway seemed completely Africa (also, we got to see a nice sunrise there), and then approaching Johannesburg, looking out the window, it was exactly as I imagined it.  Can’t explain why, but it was.  Got to see the sunset there… I’ve ordered a pizza that I’m now waiting for, and it’s actually quite chilly here! Winter and all that.  Anyways, not much to say.  I’m not even sure how I’m feeling– numb is perhaps apt? It’s happening. I’m underprepared (surprise!), but I’ll survive and figure it out… Also, I’m wearing glasses, which I haven’t done in years, and they’re weird. Especially earlier, when I put my hair in a bun, I looked like a librarian.  I don’t like how they feel so far away from my eyes, and it’s trippy having things out of focus outside of the frames.  They will be easier than contacts, though– it was nice being able to just take them off in my seat when I was going to sleep, rather than having to go to the bathroom…. I don’t think I’ll be able to get online for a while (probably a week at least), so thought I’d update now.

Home At Last

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

What I experienced the first few days I was home from Fiji can only be described as the absolute worst case of jet lag I have ever endured in my twenty one years of living. Having been awake for two days straight I slept pretty hard once I finally landed back in my room in Springfield, but strangely enough I was only able to sleep for a few hours before waking up again. For the next week I felt perpetually weary but was strangely unable to sleep. It was a very frustrating experience to say the least, and I wasn’t the only one affected. Mom and Dad had to go back to work that week, so they were forced into at least trying to sleep, but that didn’t make them any more successful at it. The Friday morning after we got home I found myself tired and exhausted but lying awake in my bed at 4:30 am. Having been lying there since around 12:30 am I decided it might be time to get up and do something else, and just as I was getting out of bed I heard something from down stairs. Turns out Mom and Dad were both up, suffering from a similar problem because before I could even make it downstairs mom had heard me moving around and called up to me asking if I was up. Since everyone in the house was up, we decided to cut our losses and just make breakfast even though it was still dark outside. So Mom and Dad and I had blueberry pancakes in the dark at 4:30 in the morning. Well into the next week I was still feeling weary consistently without being able to sleep. Since I was spending so much time not sleeping this left me free to do other things and as I did I began to notice lot of things that I had missed about home while I had been gone and some things I had begun to miss about Australia.

Things I missed about being home: 

 

Mexican food: Yes I did eat some mexican food while I was in Australia, and what I had was amazing, but it wasn’t anywhere as easy to come by as it is in the states, and it tended to air on the expensive side. It was also difficult to produce Mexican dishes on my own since things like black beans were impossible to find in an Australian grocery store. I never thought I would miss Mexican food so much, but I really did.

muy sabrosa!

My car: While city living certainly does not require a car, and it was nice to not have to think about parking or gas prices for a few months, I have enjoyed having my car back. It’s nice to be able to take trips on a whim and most of all I missed my personal time with the music on and the stereo cranked. I also missed the radio in general. Although, I most certainly did NOT miss the rush hour traffic.

My baby

My room: Having roommates is a lot of fun, but its nice to be back in my own personal and very purple space. It’s also quite wonderful to be in a full sized bed again because on my twin in Australia my feet went off the edge.

My very purple room and my very purple bed.

Cheap Alcohol- I got so used to paying $10- $20 for a cocktail that it has been a treat to be home where I pay $5-$10. I still can’t go into an ABC store without feeling incredibly nervous like I’m not supposed to be there. Even though I went to several bars and bought alcohol a few times while abroad, something about being home has me giddy and nervous about being 21 all over again.

The Rest of My Wardrobe: After having lived with the same two suitcases of clothing for five months it was delightful to come home to a closet of clothing that I hadn’t seen since February. I had forgotten I owned half the stuff I came home to!

Bananas: Due to the flooding in Queensland the months before I landed in Australia much of the banana crops of Australia were damaged or washed away. This caused a massive banana shortage, meaning that the bananas that were available were scarce and became quite expensive. When I left bananas had gotten to $12 AUD a kilo, making them almost as expensive as a prime cut of steak. Bananas as a luxury food item? Weird. It’s nice to be back on a continent where they seldom cost more than $2 for a bunch.

American Grocery Stores:  In addition to black beans I was also unable to get regular cheerios, fruit pies, bryers ice cream and many other things I am used to in Australian grocery stores. The grocery sores I went to in Sydney were smaller and had much less variety than I was used to, not to mention groceries were far more expensive and the size of everything was much smaller. When I went to a grocery store for the first time in Virginia it was massive sensory overload, but it was wonderful. I have never been so excited to go to a grocery store as I was when I first came home.

No More Flushing Decisions: In Australia just about every toilet is two flush, meaning everytime you find yourself needing to flush you have to made a decision if you want a  full flush or a half flush. Not that it was that much of a bother, but its nice not to have to ponder on wether or not whatever you are flushing down requires a full flush of water or only half.

 

Things I miss about Australia

Walking Everywhere: While it was wonderful to be back in my car, it meant that I wasn’t walking nearly as much and therefore I got very lazy and out of shape in the first few weeks I was home.

Cheap, Delicious Thai Food on Every Corner: Between living in Sydney and actually visiting Thailand I don’t know that I will ever be able to eat what passes as Thai food in the US ever again.

Included Sales Tax: While things were generally more expensive in Australia, the sales tax was always included in the listed price of everything so you always knew how much you were paying up front which was nice.

Sprawling Starry Skies: The number of stars you can see in the Southern hemisphere is incredible. All the constellations are different from the Northern hemisphere and due to the much lower levels of light pollution the visibility is incredible. I dare say no northern hemisphere sky view will ever be able to top it.

Everywhere Sells Pastries: Almost every sandwich shop, bistro and eatery in Oz sells pastries and has a wonderful selection of desserts that are made in house. Much of Europe is like this too, its wonderful.

Respect for the Environment: Australia seems to be about twenty years ahead of the US with all its green practices. From fuel efficient cars, power switches on every electrical outlet, half flush toilets, bans on plastic bags and bottles, to an emphasis on locally grown produce, recycling programs, and bio degradable plastics, they have far more respect for their environment and their natural resources. It just goes to show you how little we would have to give up to make these changes, as everyone over there seems to live quite comfortably. In line with this, all the cities I visited in Australia were all spotlessly clean. They seem to take great pride in having cities free from trash and grime.

Living in the City: I have never really thought of myself as being a city girl, but I really enjoyed living on the outskirts of Sydney. There was always something to do, somewhere to go, and something to see, usually within walking distance. Springfield seems terribly dull after living in Sydney for a few months.

No Chain Restaurants: Australians do not like chain restaurants generally speaking. There are very few chains to be found there that are not American chains., and even those are not very prominent. (except McDonalds, but there is no escaping that.) Coming home I began to notice just how many chains there are in the US and how few independently owned restaurants are in my area. I miss the excitement of walking into an establishment and not knowing what kind of food you would be served or experience you would have.

Adventures: While I was abroad I had this attitude that since my time was limited and it was unlikely that I would ever be back in Australia I should make the absolute most of the time I had and explore as much as I could and have as many adventures as I could. This led to many a great adventures, and I miss that. Being home I don’t feel any guilt spending the day indoors watching tv or running errands, whereas in Australia I would have been twisted with guilt to go through an entire day without having done anything memorable. Suffice to say life has been considerably less exciting since I returned to Springfield.

Vegetarian Friendly Cuisine: Almost every restaurant I went to while abroad had extensive vegetarian offerings. Many even had a vegetarian menu, I had forgotten how limiting being a vegetarian could be in the US. Australia is also far more health conscious than the US and their restaurant menus reflect this.

Tim Tams: Obviously.

 

People keep asking me if I want to go back to Australia, and while I did love my time there, there are so many other places in the world I am eager to see I don’t see wanting to go back any time soon. Plus the thought of enduring that 15.5 hour trans pacific flight again is in no way enticing to me. I feel like I might go back one day, who knows?

 

Day -1

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

I have a sense that I’m almost done with something… My to-do list only has a couple of things unchecked, the suitcase is completely packed and only a couple of things left for my backpack (can you believe I fit everything for a semester in one hiking backpack? I’m impressed with myself… I’m not normally a super-light packer), I haven’t quite finished all the pre-trip reading, but I think that will happen on the super-long trip (my flight from Dulles to Johannesburg looks like it’s 24 horus, because of time changes….), I’ve said most of my goodbyes, and I’m sort of at the point where nervousness and excitement fade away, and I’m left with the realization that it’s happening.  That’s it.  I’m going to miss everyone, and I’m enjoying a last couple meals that I know I won’t get for a while (hello, iddlis and spinach salads!),  but in general I’m already mentally gone.  I am feeling WAY underprepared for this trip– I’m suddenly realizing that I know almost nothing about Madagascar, and I feel really ignorant and like I’m going to be a bumbling american coming in, expecting that I’ll be fine when I really have no idea what it’s going to be like, especially to live there, not just visit.  I definitely have  enough reading to fill that long plane ride up!

Two Sunsets Over the Pacific

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Getting into the United States via customs was quite the ordeal. The lines we had to wait in were tremendously long and moved at a snails pace. Julie was so busy texting for the first time in two and a half weeks that she hardly noticed, but Dad, a man of far too many words and no patience was very verbal about his distaste for the situation.Some jems from the hour we spent trying to get through customs:

Dad: “It shouldn’t take me this long to get into the country I am a citizen of! I’m not a terrorist just let me in already!”

 

Dad: “This is like being back at Safeway, they have 18 registers but only four people working. Isn’t it great to be back in the United States? This would never happen in Fiji, nobody cares about blowing that place up, they’re too busy smoking dope.”

 

Dad: “Allah allah ackbar! Osama Jihad!”

Mom: Michael! Shut Up!

Dad: ” I was trying to get us through the line faster”

Mom: “You’re going to get us detained! I want to get home! ”

Dad: ” We are home! This is America now, I was BORN IN THE USA!”

Julie: “Do you have any original thoughts that aren’t Bruce Springstein lyrics?

Me: “doubtful, highly doubtful”

 

After finally making it through border control we had to collect our bags only to then re deposit them on a conveyer belt no more than 100 feet away from the one we pulled them off of, so they would make it onto the next flight. Then we had to find our way through the labyrinth that is LAX to the American Airlines check-in desk so we could get our boarding passes for our last flight. It was around eleven in the morning as we were doing this, and our DC flight didn’t leave till 10 pm. Thankfully, Dads childhood friend Pete lives in LA and had agreed to pick us up at the airport so we wouldn’t be stuck sitting in LAX all day. After we had our flight all squared away we met up with him and he took us to a hotel where they he had very graciously gotten us a room so we could shower and change. Julie and I thought this to be the greatest miracle of mercy. Even though I was zonked not having slept hardly at all for a good 24 hours at this point, I was also quite hungry, so Pete and his family took us out to this little Japanese restaurant in LA for a real meal. Since this was the first time Julie or I had been to LA Mom suggested we do a little sightseeing after having eaten. Pete suggested that we take a stroll on the Santa Monica Pier. Even though it was an 85+ degree day, once the sun starting to go down the temperature dropped to be in the 60s and Julie and I started shivering in our shorts and t-shirts. Julie and I were perplexed. Having lived in the muggy swamp of northern Virginia where it consistently feels like you are inside someone’s mouth every time you walk outside from late May to mid September, we were confused at the notion that one could feel chilly after sundown. You mean to tell me that in other places of the world it actually gets cold when the sun is no longer shining? BIZARRE!

 

On the Santa Monica Pier in LA

We watched the sun set over the pacific ocean on 19th of July twice. Once in Fiji, and then we flew back in time and saw it set again in California. Having now been up for almost a day and a half by the time we got off the Santa Monica pier Julie and I wanted nothing more than to get some sleep. We asked to be taken back to the hotel so we could sleep and Mom and Dad went out with Pete and his wife for a drink. I was so sleep deprived at this point that as soon as I found myself on a horizontal surface I passed the hell out and I have no memory of anything that happened after that. At some point I was woken up and we somehow ended up on another plane, but my memory of this is foggy at best. I only got maybe two hours of sleep in the hotel which was not enough to make up the deficit of sleep I had incurred in the last two days. We boarded our DC bound flight at 10 pm and I think they showed a movie, but I was in such a state it felt like my body was producing LSD naturally, so maybe I just imagined that I watched animated brightly colored talking birds. I can’t say I remember either way.

Even though I was exhausted and my brain was desperate for some shut down time, I couldn’t get comfortable on the flight with the two screaming babies sitting in front of me and a seat that didn’t recline far enough. Luckily I had a window seat so I watched the lights of middle America pass underneath until the sun rose, which was magnificent to behold.

We landed around 7 am and I had never been so happy to be at Dulles Airport in my short young life as I was when we got off that plane. We picked up our bags and made our way outside to find that we had picked the perfect time to come home, we were in the middle of a heatwave! Good ole Virginia in July. Good to know some things never change. Our next door neighbor was there to pick us up when we got outside, so we loaded up our luggage and began the final leg of our trans global journey home. On our way home from the airport we had to take 66 to get to the parkway, so in a 24 hour period we saw both ends of route 66 without seeing any of the middle.

 

Once we finally made it home I was completely drained of all energy, but somehow managed to unpack all three suitcases I had, and shower before crashing hardcore into a deep and restful sleep, finally at home and in my purple room in my purple bed. Life was good and it was good to be home.

Departing Paradise

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Our last day in Fiji of course began with packing. Julie and I had thought we needed to be checked out of our rooms by 11, but Dad thought this sounded odd, so he had gone to the front desk the previous day and asked about this and they had told him 10. Once we had packed our suitcases for the last time we headed to the breakfast bar in the hotel lobby where we found Mom and Dad already having eaten but not sitting with any luggage. When we inquired about this we found out that Julie and I had been right, and Dad might be slipping into senility because check out time was indeed at 11. Why he thought the front desk had told him otherwise is anyone’s guess. Julie and I were a little peeved that we were cheated out of an extra hour of sleep, but we were already up and packed so there was no going back at this point. Our international flight to LAX didn’t depart till 10pm so we wouldn’t be leaving the hotel until around 7, meaning we had the whole day to fill before spending another two days either on an airplane or in an airport. While Julie and I were finishing up with breakfast Dad went to the front desk to pay the bill. This bill was going to be massive after all the meals we had charged to the room, room service, bar tabs, and of course the jet ski safari, and to make matters worse it was going to come in Fijian dollars so it was going to be 1.5x higher than it would be in american, numerically anyway. Julie and I did not want to be around to witness the massive coronary Dad was going to have when he got that, so we headed to the pool.

Poolside on the last day

 

 Being that it was fairly early Julie and I were able to snag two  lounge chairs in a premium position, and there we stayed until around two or three pm when we got hungry. By that time Mom had joined us and Dad of course had found a bar somewhere and probably some strangers to talk to, so Mom, Julie and I had lunch at the hotel restaurant that faces the beach.

Beachside restaurant

After lunch we got back in the pool for a bit before Julie decided she would take a nap on a lawn chair and Mom and I took a long walk down the beach. Around five Julie and I used the pool showers to wash our hair and then put our comfortable clothes on to prepare for the plane. From then on it was just a waiting game until 7 when we were getting picked up. So I took some pictures around the hotel to pass the time.

on the beach

 

 

 

Fiji water in Fiji.....go figure. We got these everyday for free.

 

The man who was driving our bus transport to the airport talked a lot about the island we were on as we drove. At one point he said “and to your left you will see the American embassy.” We all leaned to the left to get a peak, but all we saw was a McDonalds. He got a good laugh at this. He also told us that while there are 334 Fijian islands there are only three McDonalds locations, and they have to import the french fries since the potato does not grow naturally there.

We got to the airport and through security with about two hours to spare so we set off to try to entertain ourselves in the terminal. Mom walked around through all the tacky overpriced souvenir shops, Julie and I stood in line to get our Fijian money exchanged, and since there were no bars to be found Dad fished a magazine out of his giant 10 lb backpack of reading materials that he had lugged all over Australia. Knowing that the food on the Air Pacific flight wouldn’t be that good Julie and I invested in some snacks before we boarded, but the food options in the Fijian airport were shoddy at best.

airport ice cream fail

The whole time we were killing time in the terminal we had a live bula band playing, which did give the whole room a jovial atmosphere, which is impressive since we were all about to board a 10 hour trans pacific flight with two crying babies.

Bula band in the international terminal

 

Aiport security....in a skirt. If he really needed to chase someone down it might be tricky in this get up.

We boarded the flight on time and they served us a meal about an hour into it. I think I have been truly spoiled by Qantas airlines because I thought everything about Air Pacific was sub par. The food was awful, Julie’s headphone jack malfunctioned and they had significantly less entertainment options than Qantas has. Still, after you have done a 15.5 hour flight pretty much everything else seems paltry by comparison, so ten hours wasn’t awful, even though it was a red eye flight. Thankfully I was able to sleep a little bit and stretch out, as there was nobody in the seat to my left and Julie was in the seat to my right. I don’t know how long I was out for but I missed breakfast, which according to Dad was worth missing since it consisted of a very soggy hash brown and some questionable gray meat product. We landed in LA mid morning of the 19th we had left Fiji on the evening of the 19th. While the idea of time travel is cool, in actuality its quite bewildering. I don’t think I knew what day/time it was for at least three days after we got home. Still it was nice to be back in the correct hemisphere, season, and country.