New Directions

Posted: March 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | 2 Comments »


Over the last month, I’ve struggled.  And I’ve struggled with the fact that I’m struggling.  The only English channel here in our Viennese hotel room is CNN.  And everyday I’m inundated with images of the lost Malaysian flight, the burgeoning protests sparking across the world, the deadly landslide in the US.  Everyday, as I walk down the streets, I’m faced with people begging.  I think to myself, “What right do I have to struggle?  I’m so incredibly blessed in my life.”  Yet, I’ve been forced to face that though my issues aren’t on par in terms of objective distress to many others, that doesn’t make them any less real to me. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Reflections on the 6th Month

Posted: March 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | No Comments »


We spent the entire 6th month of our trip in Europe (as usual, I’m behind on the blog, if you couldn’t tell).  Europe is a different beast compared to America in so many different ways.  Here are a few we’ve noticed that have made an impact in the way we choose to live our daily lives:

Read the rest of this entry »

Observations of Tel Aviv

Posted: March 7th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates, Thoughts | No Comments »

Days before we were taking a bus to Tel Aviv, we received a notice from the US embassy (courtesy of signing up for STEP so that our gov’t knew we were in Israel in case something happened), that a bomb had exploded on an Israeli bus in the outskirts of Tel Aviv.  Thankfully, someone had spotted the suspicious package and alerted everyone to get off in time, so no one was hurt.  However, the US embassy was urging caution, and we took their advice on hand.  While I admit we were nervous on the whole bus ride, with our eyes peeled for any suspicious packages and/or people, we ended up having a very smooth, very quick ride. 

Our first impressions of Tel Aviv is that it’s very different from Jerusalem, even the Old City part of it.  It’s quite a modern city, with a laid-back open-minded attitude towards life.  In fact, we met a man who enthusiastically told us about all the best spots in the city, and he describes Israel’s three biggest cities in this way: “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, and Tel Aviv parties.”  While we’re not big party people, we definitely enjoyed the laissez-faire atmosphere. 


The gorgeous Mediterranean Sea.

The first thing we did was lounge around on the beach.  The beach this beautiful ombre color, shifting from pale turquoise to dark blue.  Gorgeous.  We spend many hours listening to the sounds of the waves and talking.  As you’ll have noticed, Rick and I like talking with each other a lot.  The tension unknotted from my shoulders and we lazed around doing very little. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Observations of the Old City of Jerusalem

Posted: March 4th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | 2 Comments »


On our way to Jaffa Gate.  The rail track is to the right.  See the snow?  It snowed a foot the week before we arrived.

Rick and I had high expectations for Jerusalem, and perhaps, that’s what doomed us from the start.  We’d only heard good things from other people, how the experience had been life-changing.  I, in particular, longed to walk through the places I’d only read about.  It’s a particular thing of mine, seeing the same sights, breathing the same air, and matching up scenes from books, from my imagination, to the real deal.  And, yeah, the Bible is a pretty epic book (regardless of your belief, it’s got some crazy stories in there and some interesting Truths).  Jerusalem, well, met our expectations in some ways and defied them in others.  Not necessarily in a good way. 

Soldiers & Guns


Now that is a bad-ass police vehicle.  We stayed down the block from the police station.

The first thing we noticed about Jerusalem, and Israel in general, is the preponderance of guns everywhere, and the soldiers carrying them around. In fact, on our bus ride from the Tel Aviv airport to Jerusalem, half the bus was full of young soldiers. We quickly became used to them, and their huge black guns slung across their shoulders. In fact, it became slightly ridiculous how many large black guns we’d see each day. We once stopped by David’s Tower to check the admission price, and there was some guy lounging in front of the door dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with a large black gun swinging on his side, just casually, like it was no big deal. I think it was supposed to make us feel safer, but it had quite the opposite effect on me.


This represents Jerusalem to me: tourists and soldiers coexisting side-by-side.


The second thing we noticed about Jerusalem is that, for the exchange rate, Jerusalem is quite expensive, especially in the old city. We talked to our tour guide and he said that he’s had to move out of the immediate city of Jerusalem because it was getting too expensive to live there on his income (though he hopes to move back as soon as he’s able). We splurged on Chinese food one night, and it was the most expensive Chinese food we’ve ever paid for in our life (tasted good though). Which is saying a lot, considering how much Chinese food we’ve had in our lives.

Overly Touristy

Not only is everything quite expensive, but much of it is overly touristy. We’d go to holy sites and there’d be hawkers yelling out about SD cards and batteries, about silver necklaces and bracelets (I overheard one tour guide telling his group they were all fake). There was stalls near the Via Dolorosa, selling crowns of thorns and faux copies of the “widow’s mite”. Now, if you know the story of the Widow’s Mite, buying a copy of it is, to me, the height of irony. Everywhere we looked, there was someone trying to profit off of someone else’s religious pilgrimage. Fine, it’s to make money to support their family, and I have no problem with that reasoning. And, of course, it wouldn’t exist at all if tourists didn’t buy it all up like crazy.  It just left a bad taste in my mouth and marred the sanctity of many sites for me. Jerusalem, the Holy City, seemed like a tourist trap. That’s economic reality, but it sucks.

Don’t get me started on the actual tourists, but that’s not Jerusalem’s fault.  I’ll just leave you with this picture to illustrate:


These are the tourists following the Franciscan friars along the Via Dolorosa.



The bench with bread.

Ok, this is more Rick’s issue with Jerusalem. But, it’s worth a mention. The thing with living most of your life in California is the variety of cuisines to choose from. Call us spoiled if you wish, but we’re used to changing up our meal routine quite a bit over the course of a month. And, Jerusalem doesn’t have a HUGE variety of meals. Mostly, it has bread. A lot of bread. Which sucked for Rick, because he gets tired of bread very quickly. And after a while, so did I. In fact, we saw a huge bench completely full of bread, and even the birds and nearby animals (or homeless people) seemed uninterested in the bread. That’s how much bread is in Jerusalem. Which is why we splurged on Chinese food in order to save Rick’s sanity.

Simmering Tension

Jerusalem is actually the only country in which we felt remotely physically threatened. At one point on our walking tour, a few kids chucked ice balls at our head from the second story of a house, the ice missing us and smashing into the ground a few inches away. Another time, something else crashed at our feet, again narrowly missing our heads. We have no idea whether it just fell from the roof or was intentionally thrown, but it rattled us. We’ve had an Orthodox Jewish man running towards us full-tilt to tell us we were trespassing. I swear it was an honest mistake. We were looking for the Room of the Last Supper and the only signs posted were in Hebrew. But, nevertheless, the man look pretty pissed. At many of the major religious sites, there are ramps for bomb-defusing robots and bomb-defusing containers. At the end of each day, my neck and shoulders and back would be knotted up with tension.


Bomb-defusing container near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Jerusalem tries to be a place of religious tolerance, but the tolerance clings on with the sheerest of veneers. Let me explain my reasoning. When I was at UCI, I took a Chemistry Lab class. I had two lab partners, one Jewish, the other Muslim. We weren’t the best students in the class. Truthfully, we were all lost most of the time. So, we’d joke around, saying, “Let’s all pray that we finish this experiment semi-correctly. God’s bound to listen to one of us.” I’m not saying America is so much better. We have our own problems (too many to name), but the way I grew up, the environment in which we lived, allowed us to accept the many differences around us as natural, so natural as to be virtually unnoticed.  To us, our beliefs are important to us, but we accept & respect that the other person believes differently and it makes no difference how we treat the other person. This is the way we’ve been taught. And we can joke about it, as long as we don’t cross into mean/intolerant-territory.  In Jerusalem, beliefs are no laughing matter, not even a little. The balance of tolerance is too shaky for that. Riots have started, people have lost their lives, from something as simple as drilling a hole 6 inches too far (I’ll tell you that story another time if you’re truly interested). . 



Candles in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Ok, I have to end this post of a good note. It wasn’t all bad. We met some genuinely nice people in Jerusalem. Rick and I enjoyed many long conversations, just the two of us, while lounging in the gardens of the Garden Tomb. I do love how literary the inhabitants of Jerusalem are, with bookstores everywhere. I always enjoy diving into a used bookstore and not surfacing for air for a couple hours, especially if I stumble upon treasures. And, it’s super easy to communicate with everyone. Everyone we encountered had a basic grasp of English, with most having a very good grasp of English, so we never had any communication difficulties.


While this is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime city to visit, especially as a religious pilgrimage site, you can probably tell that this is one of the few cities Rick and I have no desire to revisit. At least anytime soon. One, we’ve seen most of what we came to see and it’s highly unlikely the sites will change much within our lifetime. Two, the constant tension we were under along with the generally unfriendly vibes we encountered personally doesn’t really lend itself to something I’d want to experience again. Perhaps, if we leave the Old City part of Jerusalem, things would’ve been much better, but I’m not too sure of that.

I hope any future visitors aren’t deterred by this post if they truly want to visit Jerusalem.  It’s just one experience among many.  I know others have had different experiences than us, and I’m glad for them. Perhaps your visit will be different.  I hope it’s different.  The city is so rich in history and culture, I hope Jerusalem can step out of its shadowed history and be an example to the world of how tolerance is supposed to work. 

Reflections of the 5th Month

Posted: February 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | No Comments »


Wow, I can’t believe 5 months have passed.  I’ve absorbed so much over the past 5 months and become so inspired.  I have tons of ideas for future projects, to the point that Rick fears I’ll be a workaholic even while I’m on vacation.  (psst, random self-promotion, but if you’re interested in my different interests, they’re all gathered together here.)  I’m not sure if I’ve changed as a person, but I’m still learning.  Here are some things I’ve realized in the last month or so:

Read the rest of this entry »

Observations of Istanbul

Posted: January 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | No Comments »


My first impression of Istanbul is how very packed everything is to one another.  The houses seem squeezed together as if someone had lifted up the ends of the land like a blanket and all the houses had slid to the middle.  Even though the landscape seems so cluttered with buildings, Istanbul is beautiful.  The Turkish people have a flair for displaying their surroundings to the utmost.  At night, the Blue Mosque is lit up like a Disneyland fairytale castle and the Hagia Sophia looms like a great protector.  Even the most mundane areas of daily life are arranged in such a way as to set off their best features.  Walking through a fresh market, the fruits and vegetables are laid out meticulously, each one placed neatly by hand.  We saw the same in a fish market, the heads & tails of each fish all facing the same direction, the gills pulled out in dark-red lines as an easy way for customers to spot freshness.  There seems to be a national sense of aesthetics: orderly, meticulous, and geometric.  It’s so delightful to me when I discover a small hidden corner in Istanbul as lavishly decorated as the greatest national treasure. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Reflections of the 4th Month

Posted: January 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | 2 Comments »


A big orange cat, because I used to love a big orange cat who adored me back (even if he’d rather spit up hairballs than admit it) and who I knew was always waiting for me at home no matter how bad high school could become. 

I feel like I’m taking longer and longer to post these monthly observations.  Before I know it, I’ll be posting 2 months worth at a time. 

So, while sitting on a beach in Tel Aviv, listening to the waves of the Mediterranean Sea wash against the rocks, Rick asked me what I missed from back home.  I told him In-N-Out double cheeseburgers and taco trucks.  All kidding aside (wait, who says I’m kidding?), I do miss the concept of home. Maybe it’s because I’m a girl with some strain of latent evolutionary nesting instinct that’s rearing its head a la Alien, but I do miss having a place to call HOME. 

Rick and I aren’t the picky sort.  Give us a clean bed, a working toilet on the same floor as us, wi-fi internet, plus a lock on the door, and we’re good to go.  We’ve stayed in fancy 4-star hotels, apartments, teeny-tiny rooms just big enough for a bed, and a cave.  Yet, every time we arrive at a new lodging, I can’t help but think how temporary our stay is.  A week.  Two.  Never more than a month.  New neighborhoods to figure out.  New customs to understand. 

I miss that sensation of permanency, the innate understanding that a place is ours and ours alone.  I miss knowing the neighborhood.  I miss familiarity.  And when we’re done with travelling, I wish we had a home to go back to.  Oh, of course we won’t be homeless.  I know that our long-suffering families will always have a place for us until we find another place of our own.  But, it’s not quite the same feeling.  I’m not sure if I’m saying this right, if I’m conveying my emotions with the right words.

This may seem like a departure from an earlier post about how many times I’ve moved in the last 10 years, and how home is wherever Rick (+ internet) is.  All this is still true, in a way. I love travelling.  I love seeing the world with Rick by my side.  I think I could travel for a very long time, given the chance.   But, now, I’m definitely seeing the merits of having a home base, where I can go and reset myself and then fly out again.

I had a lot of other interesting things I’ve learned over the last month or so, but these thoughts have really taken over my brain lately.  So, my friends, for your reading pleasure.  Perhaps next month, I’ll be a bit less maudlin. 

Happy New Year!

Posted: January 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | No Comments »


We rung in the New Year while sitting in our Jerusalem hotel, watching a Michael Jackson impersonator dancing around a Christmas tree on TV and toasting with mint lemonade.  Fireworks burst outside, lighting the sky with an orange glow. 

Afterwards, Rick and I talked.  About this past year.  About our fears and expectations for the next year.  I said how I wanted to be the best version of myself and persevere in our dreams no matter what obstacles may crop up.  Then, Rick said something that really resonated with me: After talking to so many people on our trip, I’ve realized that we are so blessed.  And I think we should use our blessings to help the people around us in whatever little ways we can. So I think we’ve adopted these are our New Years Resolutions. 
I think our next year will be as full with changes as this last year was.  However, I know one thing for sure, Rick and I will be able to face whatever comes full-on.

I hope your next year overflow with an abundance of blessings and that it will be filled with love, joy, and adventure of the best sort.  May you experience wonderful moments that turn into life-changing memories.  Hugs to every one of you.  Happy 2014!

Merry Christmas!

Posted: December 25th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | No Comments »


And unto us a lamb is born. 

Though there are still a bunch of upcoming posts on Turkey, I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas from the wonderful country of Israel.  It’s special for me to be here on this particular occasion, the culmination of a dream. 

There’s lots of things that can be said for Christmas.  It’s strange not be celebrating with other family members.  I miss the warmth and cheer that comes of being with the people that love us most, the familiar traditions we enact each year.  However, to walk in the place where Jesus walked, the reason for the season, I feel a sense of awe settle upon me. 

And I think, why?  Why must we fight amongst ourselves?  Why are there divisions between people? We are all the same in a sense.  We love.  We love our families, our land, our culture, our beliefs in the same way around the world.  There’s a particularly poignant scene in the mini-series, Band of Brothers, where a German commander bids farewell to his troops and an American soldier translates for his compatriots.  The words spoken could’ve been said by either side.  Yes, there are bad people who make evil choices.  But, the majority of us are the same, no matter what side we’re on.  I hope you’ll excuse my rambling, but in this holiday season, in a land so splintered by faith and so traumatized in history, in all our travels and the different people we’ve met, I can’t help but think how easily we could achieve world peace if only we’d sit down and just talk with an open mind like the disparate travellers who gather around a common table in a guesthouse in Istanbul and breakfast together.

A very merry Christmas to you.  I wish many blessings upon you and your loved ones in this special time of year.   

Reflections on the 3rd Month

Posted: December 11th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | No Comments »



I can’t believe it’s been 3 months already!  As you may have seen from my earlier post, Travel Time, time is a bit skewed for me.  3 months seem to have gone by in a flash, but at the same time, we’ve settled into the rhythm of travel so it seems as if we’ve been traveling forever.  Istanbul has been great fun but it means I’ve again fallen a bit behind in posts.  I should be able to catch up a bit over the next few days since we’ve a couple days of rest scheduled over the next week.  Here are a few more reflections I’ve had in the last month. 

Traveling isn’t all WOW moment

Perhaps I’ve conveyed exactly that sentiment in my own blog, because, frankly, if I wrote EVERYTHING we did on a day-to-day basis, it would end up as the most boring blog ever.  Even when Rick and I discuss our own reminisces, it’s much more interesting to discuss the crazy time I fell in a Bangkok canal or standing on the Great Wall of China than the day we spent sleeping and typing on the computer or the story of me sewing up holes in our clothes.  But that’s what happens during a large chunk of our trip because a long-term trip isn’t the same as our two-week honeymoon or a week-long cruise.  We need times of rest and time to work and we can’t wait to go home in order to do so.  It has to be built into our trip. 

Read the rest of this entry »