Thursday, November 26, 2009

Freelance writing opportunity

Since I started blogging more seriously about a year ago, I've rekindled my interest in reading and writing. I always had it as a youngster-- as a child I would pour over books for hours and hours. My dream husband was Hans Christian Andersen, and at 10 years old, I wanted to be a novelist.

Through the years, though, aspects of being an adult such as working, relationships, and just daily living separated me from those early dreams.

However, recently because of residing abroad and being in a lucky position to "reinvent" a career, I decided to try my hand at freelance writing. It turns out, luckily, that there are loads of online writing opportunities out there, both paying and resume-enhancing.

So far, one of the sites I've really enjoyed writing for is, particularly because I get choose my own topics and titles, as opposed to selecting from an established list. Since I'm in Japan now, I write mostly travel related articles.

But accepts writers from any niche. Would you enjoy writing about parenting? What about cooking? Book reviews? There's really something for everyone, and you can even invent your own title.

Right now, Examiner. com is recruiting new writers. The application process is easy, and within a few days, you just might be on your way to freelancing yourself. Check out their site here, for more information.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Shanghai Baby

I promise to tell detailed stories about Shanghai soon, but for now, here are a few of my favorite images from the trip. We're busy getting ready for our next foray out in the world- Hong Kong just in time for Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for travel!

Tiger Hill Pagoda

Old Town street art

Old Shanghai Teahouse. Isn't the tea gorgeous with the big red flower floating in it?
Old Canal Suzhou

Wedding portraits
Edible sugar art design on a stick. Amazing video of the whole creation to come soon...
About 10 times a day on the famous Nanjing Road, the busiest shopping street in Asia, I was approached by hawkers offering up astounding bargains on knockoff designer bags they pretended were real, "Lady, lady... want Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton?" When I didn't bite, they moved on to hustling fake Rolex and Breitling watches. Hmm... tempting, but no.

What I really regret not buying, however, was this small figurine of Chairman Mao enjoying a coke.
Oh, why didn't I just buy it? I felt horrible remorse once I returned to Okinawa and did a mad search online for one, but to no it's lost to me forever. Foolish me... why didn't I realize in the moment how awesome that is?

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Window of Opportunity

Just returning from my trip to Shanghai... lots of fun stories to tell including haggling for souvenirs in Old Town Shanghai, my water village boat ride, and 3 day carb-laden restricted diet of nothing but croissants and soup dumplings.

But first, I wanted to share my news.

A while back, I read one of those new agey self-realization books kind of like "The Secret" only not that freakish but similarly full of cheesy affirmations and the whole vision board and all that. You know what I am talking about, right?

Well, I tried out this little exercise in which I wrote down "things" that I wanted to attract into my life. I did this as an experiment and for fun, not taking it all that seriously because of course I know perfectly well you have to work for what you want. Rarely, does it just magically appear into your lap out of thin air.

Anyway, one of the things I wrote on my list was "free travel", and I knew how ridiculous and indulgent THAT was because when is it ever free?

Well, low and behold, my crazy wish for "free travel" has actually sort of come true. I have been given an opportunity to become a tour escort on international and local tours from here to other countries in Asia as well as around neighboring Japanese islands.

Needless to say, I am well aware that it's not completely free since I will be traveling on an official capacity and have to deal with whatever problems that may arise on the trip, which may be a complete nightmare sometimes if it involves people slipping in the shower or getting lost or sick or gasp, arrested and thrown in jail.

But people, it's travel!

So, I might live to regret the whole experience once it stops being fun and starts feeling like work, but right now I am excited.

I'm also curious. I'm curious about you and your experience with "envisioning" that which you want... have you ever done it? Master wish lists, magazine clippings, meditative trances, any other wacky techniques... did any of it work?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Soup Dumplings!

I'm preparing to leave for Shanghai in a few days on my solo trip. Although I wrote here before that I was feeling a little anxious about traveling by myself, so many of you encouraged me to feel good about it, and I have to say that now I do. Thank you!

In addition, I looked up an old acquaintance who happens to live in Shanghai now, so I am planning to meet up with one known person there, and hopefully get an insider's take on the metropolis.

First things first, though, as soon as I get situated, I'm heading straight to find myself a famous Shanghai soup dumpling. These culinary treats are amazing, though you have to tread carefully as the contents are fiery hot and explosive! Danger awaits, but oh so worth it.

Also, I'm officially announcing my new project as a Cultural Travel writer for Examiner. com. More about this later, but please please check out my first article here!

I'll be back soon with some adventure stories from China, that is if I don't get thrown in the Bund.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Night Fair

I realized years ago that some cultures around the world are "night cultures", meaning that the really fun stuff happens after sunset and people come alive. It's certainly true of Japan, where during the day they are mild mannered and polite, but as soon as the neon comes out, they can become rowdy and festive, filling noisy restaurants and bars until stumbling home early in the morning.

We got a little taste of night culture in Okinawa last weekend when we attended an event similar to a county fair in the states. They were vendors selling steamed sweet potatoes, yakitori, goldfish and baby chicks, and Orion (Okinawan beer) of course.

They also had a stage with musical performances, but the most interesting part of the night was a very dramatic symbolic procession, honoring the seas and hoping for good harvest this year. Dozens of drummers, red cloaked women carrying torches, and Eisa dancers walked along a huge wooden boat being steered down a narrow corridor. On top of the boat were children and adults wearing traditional Ryukan clothing.

But don't take my word for it- watch this short video of some of the best scenes of the night.

This is going to sound strange, but sometimes when I travel or live abroad, I forget that I am in another country. Of course, cognitively I know I am, but I become desensitized to the "foreignness" after a point. And then, I find myself in some unexpected and unique situation and I'm hit all of the sudden with how large and wonderfully diverse and exciting the world is. It makes me so happy to be living and able to experience it.

So you know that feeling of awe that we're all part of this huge world? Fellow readers and travelers, when you felt it?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How Has Travel Shaped You?

On a whim last week, I picked up a new novel at the library without really knowing anything about it.

I do it that way often rather than seeking out bestsellers or even classics-- I love feeling surprised by a new discovery and the randomness of it. Of course, the title had the word travel in it, which is always alluring to me. On top of that the author, Sue Monk Kidd, is the creator of "The Secret Life of Bees", which I fell hard for.

In any case, I inhaled this book in about two days... it was about travel to Greece, Turkey, and France, but also about travel with a loved one, and also the epiphanies we have while we're in a foreign environment.
The book got me thinking about my own life and travel adventures, and how it's certainly true that I've learned things about myself, made life-changing decisions, and been inspired by things I've seen and experienced away from home.

A few major events come to mind-- as a middle school student in Mexico, I first grappled with poverty and what it means to live in a developing country. From that point, I learned to appreciate every material comfort I had, and at the same time to disassociate things with fulfillment.

Later, as a Peace Corps in Namibia, I learned to intuit whether situations were safe or dangerous, and more importantly, when I had no control over outcomes, to simply "trust" other people.

I would say now in Japan as a married person without a career (a scary prospect to me lately), I'm looking for new and fresh ways to carve a niche for myself and feeling excited about that. More about this big change to come...

Finally, I've had the other kinds of epiphanies abroad too- I decided to end a relationship that wasn't right for me, I learned that I really can drive a stick shift up an icy mountain in Poland, and now I know how to barter over the price of a scarf with the best of them.

So, what about you out there? What have you learned about yourself away from home? What big decisions have you made? How has travel shaped or changed you?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shanghai Surprise

For my birthday this year, I've decided to take a little solo trip to Shanghai.

We actually went there last Christmas, but it was so bitterly cold outside that we didn't get to explore the city as we normally would do. In addition to that, Sean was a walking corpse the last time, suffering from the flu and trying to make the best of it.

Moreover, I'm starting to notice that our time here in Asia is passing quickly. Who knows when I'll have another chance to feed a baby panda in China or ride an elephant in India? If there's anything I've learned in the last year, it's that we always have the best intentions of going here or there, but life complications get in the way and we have to act now, especially for obscure places that are once in a lifetime opportunities, which is the kind of travel I really want to do.

So all this is well and good, but it brings me to my big confession to you-- these days or rather since I've been married, I feel anxiety traveling alone. Okay, I've said it.

Now, this discomfort was never a problem in my previous unmarried life. Sure, I always worried about being safe and secure, but even so, I did some pretty crazy things. I hitchhiked in Africa by myself, I walked around the streets of Rome unaccompanied at night, passing by all kinds of leering Italian men, and even somehow survived when my rental car broke down at 10:30 at night, leaving me stranded in the Czech Republic years ago...

So surely, I can handle anything that Shanghai might throw at me, right?

However, my resistance also stems from just WANTING another person, a friend to BE there. This feeling is probably a direct result of marriage and engagement with another person about all the mundane details of our lives together and apart.

But if I'm completely honest with myself, a big part of the thrill of travel for me in my life now is not just the "doing", but the sharing. It's so wonderful to have an experience that's funny or bizarre or even scary with another person. And I love talking with that same person down the road and saying, Do you remember that time we... ?

In my previous life, I would never have anticipated that I would feel this way about travel. Even so, I'm forging ahead and making plans to do some fun things so that I am not really alone. (how can I be in a city with 17 million people?) My plans thus far are to sip tea in an ancient teahouse, join the throngs of people for morning exercises on the Bund, eat famous soup dumplings with a straw, and take a gondola through water village known as the "Venice of Asia". I still feel the anxiety, but I feel excitement too.

So, readers and fellow travelers out there, how do you manage traveling on your own? Do you notice yourself having more fun solo than with others? Can you relate?

BTW, it's not too late to join me for a smattering of soup dumpling-- My trip is Nov 19-22

Guest Post: Motivating Ourselves to Travel

Friends, today's post is from Anil, a fellow enthusiastic traveler and blog friend. I especially love his recommendations to get off our butts and get out there in the world! His awesome blog, foXnoMad, is overflowing with interesting travel experiences and advice. Check him out!

mr lazy t shirt
Motivating yourself to travel can be difficult for a number of reasons. You may be comfortable in your routine, worried about spending in a down economy, or just keep putting it off indefinitely so you never feel you've actually given up. The root of the problems though are all point to one source - you.

Externalizing your problems is the quick road to traveling nowhere fast but you can easily get out the door in 3 months to where you want and within your budget. There are always circumstances beyond control but here's how you can navigate around each one.

1. Pick A Place

Start the first step with the easiest and most fun part of travel planning - picking where you want to go. Forget about budget, time off from work, and the other aspects of planning for the moment. Where have you always wanted to go or the last place on TV that made you say "wow"?

pin on a map

2. How Long You Will Be Gone

Depending on your job and other obligations your travel time will obviously vary. Determine realistically how much time off can you take in 3-6 months from the present and how long travel time (plane ride, car trip, etc.) will take out of the actual destination. Even if your trip to your dream destination is a short one, take it. Procrastination will try to creep in along ever step on the way.

hmmm sign

3. How Much You Want To Spend

I don't like to ask "how much will my next trip cost" because much of it is really a question of "how can I make this fit into my given budget"?

  • dollar billsFlights can be made cheaper by using a travel agent and booking something with long layovers. They're a pain but you can make them in to a mini-trip along the way. 8 hours in New York, Hong Kong, or Istanbul? That's a few hours to explore another city.

  • Leave your comfort zone. Consider staying in a hostel to experience the community atmosphere or couch surf (CouchSurfing) for a better taste of the local culture. Both are much cheaper (or free) compared to a hotel and usually worth the adventure.

  • Cut some debt. I'm not suggesting you sell your house but consider cutting out smaller monthly payments you may have. Television cable (watch online), cigarettes (quit, it's better for your health), and newspaper subscriptions (read online) quietly eat your income. To further motivate yourself take the money you'd spend on those items into a travel fund and watch it grow.

  • Sell things you never use. Old books, that dumb gift you got for Christmas, or the outdated iPod you haven't touched since upgrading. Put them online and get a little bit back for them. Take that money and put it directly into your travel fund. Now you've got more money and less crap - a great combination for traveling.

4. Book The Ticket...Now

I'm willing to bet that you that - #1 you already know where you want to go, #2 you have an idea about your vacation time, and #3 you have more expenditures than you'd like to admit. Put your money where your mouth is and book your ticket now. Borrow from your savings if you have to and pay yourself back but don't lose the motivation you have to travel when it strikes.

Once you actually book your ticket you've dealt a series blow to procrastination. Saving money and earning vacation time are achievable once you make them goals. There's no secret trick or magic spell you need to learn. It's a matter of figuring out what you want to do and making the sacrifices to get there. It's ok to tell your friend you're staying in one night to save for a trip or working a few hours of overtime to get a week off in a few months.

Now stop reading and get to it. Now.

[photos by: FUNKYAH, nrivera, striatic, kernelslacker]

These are great tips for challenging the homebody in me! But I'm curious about all you out there... How do you motivate yourself to travel?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Another Year Down...

We've really been doing this for two years already?

Lately here in Okinawa with our ocean views and intermittent bimonthly pseudo typhoon breezing through, I have been missing a proper fall with orange foliage and crisp air. I find myself thinking about our honeymoon often.

We escaped to Napa Valley in November 07 for a quick glorious getaway of pasta and fried olives, wine drinking, bike riding and wine drinking at the same time, and grape stomping of course...

We stayed at a cozy Victorian Inn called La Belle Epoque, the kind of place where none of the in-room appliances work, but you don't care because they turn down the comforter at night and sneak in fresh baked cookies and port for a bedtime snack. (I'm totally stealing that idea and treating house guests to the same, if you ever come to visit)

Each morning, we woke to gourmet breakfasts, which were brought to our room in an antique Chinese wedding basket. I loved opening each layer and feeling surprised, and I am also totally stealing this idea if I ever open my own B&B some day.

In the late afternoons, we were invited to wine tastings in the cellar. We had to stoop to enter the small door, but once inside we sat and talked with the other guests and the owners, a lovely British couple for hours. Sean got along so well with them in fact that they generously presented us with a nice bottle of wine as a wedding present.

In addition to visiting some of our favorite wineries on our own, the highlight of our trip was a dual purpose Bike riding and wine drinking tour, which I highly recommend if you plan on visiting this area. Great fun to ride around and enjoy the scenery, while stopping at vineyards and sampling wines along the way.

I have always wanted to stomp grapes... and for some odd reason, I was the only person. Am I a little strange?

On a side note, they did make me disinfect my feet before plopping myself in. Here I am having fun sloshing around, but I was secretly afraid the whole time I would slip and fall in the vat of purple sludge.
Here I am pretending to drink a glass of wine and drive the tractor... what fun, but they probably didn't appreciate me climbing on their equipment.

Sean with a late afternoon wine grin... this photograph was taken at our third winery and we needed some time to gather ourselves before hopping on the bikes again for the ride back.

Such a nice afternoon and honeymoon. Some days I can't believe that two years have passed since then...

So friends, I want to know from you-- where did you honeymoon? Any special or funny memory to share? If you're not married, what would be your dream honeymoon?

Don't be shy! Jump in...


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