Newsletter-ARMY OF DIVERGENCE (my readers stand separate and distinct)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Asian Travels by Ami Blackwelder


Teaching Abroad changes Lives
When I left university I had no idea what I was going to do. I had a degree in English writing. After some persuasion from parents, I went into the military. Bad idea. After getting out, I wanted to travel and see more of the world and different cultures. Mark Twain said we never fully understand our own culture until we’ve experienced another. 
I take those words to heart.
I lived in Korea for a year and then ventured into China, Tibet and Nepal for about 6 months. I lived in Thailand for 6 months. Then I returned home.
But the overseas bug stuck to me like glue. I had to see more and employment in the states wasn’t anything to brag about. I journeyed to Thailand and ended up staying for six years.
How did all these travels change me? 
Korea was my first glimpse at a culture truly different from my own, truly unique. I mean there really is not another culture like it. Many Americans can’t tell the difference between Asian people, so let me educate you here. 
Korea’s written language is much simpler than Chinese or Japanese. It is in block form like square shapes. The country is small and so they build high, upward. They also build underneath the city and that is where you will find the famous bath houses. Some are so big they actually have movie theaters inside of them. Many have various rooms like a big maze where one room is freezing with natural stone walls and another is hot from steam. Massage therapy and eggs and yogurts and milks all help to sooth the muscles and bones.
The people like to keep a distance, and I don’t mean just physically. Because really, there is no physical personal space. But I mean it in another way. Kinda hard to describe. It isn’t quite emotional distance either, but it can feel that way. They live like a collective, and many streets are not marked so that tourists can’t find their way easily. If you are able to make Korean friends, then you will learn so much more.
Similar to Chinese and Japanese in physical appearance, the Koreans differ in style. They usually look like models with their perfect bodies to their perfect attire. The whole thing can feel very superficial. But many people will love to know you and learn English from you. 
While I was there, they won the soccer world cup and Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz showed up for the release of Vanilla Sky. 
I made many Koreans friends and since I had many similar features to them, I fit right in. One thing I did not like was the spicy Kimchi and the fact that they ate dog. I especially did not like the way the killed the dogs, but won’t go into that. Many stray older dogs roamed the streets, because when they were no longer cute to have as pets, the people would rid of them.
China is so diverse depending on where you live. I lived in a small quite rural city where people still rode bicycles regularly for work and leisure. There was also a bus and many motorbikes and some cars. I enjoyed learning a dance there. I also ran in the annual race in the city where everyone runs up a high mountain. Best shape of my life -so far. I was a mere 125 lbs! Gosh, If I could only get back to that again. 
The people were far more friendly than Koreans and for the most part they don’t dress like super models. They just seem more approachable. I loved to eat at a Japanese sushi bar they had close by and my salary was only $300 a month! But the average Chinese in the area only earned $100 a month, so I was living quite well, especially since my apartment was taken care of for me. I only had transport and utility/food expenses.
I made some Chinese friends and western teacher friends and the experience was unforgettable.  But I only stayed a summer.
Nepal and Tibet  were some of the most interesting lands I had ever been too! The landscape is almost identical. Lush mountains with rice fields and beautiful blue skies. Plentiful water from the ground; fertile soil for growing food. Many minerals to make jewelry from as well. Turquoise is very abundant there and I saw the stone used in many designs. 
Interestingly is that there are many Tibetans living in Nepal who fled Tibet since China’s occupation and some of those Tibetans are Muslim. I never knew that until living there for 6 months. I had thought all Tibetans were Buddhist. But that is not the case. I did meet Buddhist Tibetans too. 
Though the country is very poor, a developing country, it is still very rich in basic needs like water food, clothing. Because the land is so fertile the people can live off of it well enough. Unfortunately, many women and children rights are still neglected and while in Nepal during the local political civil spats, I saw women marching with signs for equal rights and saw children as young as three lifting stones with their mothers in working fields.  
I worked at a school to help build up the education the best I could, but I could only offer a little help. The service was free of course, since thy cannot really pay you to work there in most schools in Nepal or Tibet.
My drive on the bus from Tibet into Nepal was listed as one of the most picturesque journeys in the world and it certainly was. I imagine travels in the deserts would be amazing too, but if you like mountains, hills, grassy landscapes, this ride is for you. 
You might be asking how I managed to afford to do all of this? Many people want to travel but don’t have the money to do so. Well, you can offer your English teaching services. This is what I did to land a job in China, Korea, and I volunteered in Nepal and Tibet. Working in the country while there helps to give you the money you need to see as much as you would like. Plus you don’t have to rush back to catch a plane anytime soon. 
Thailand I ended up staying in for six years. I bought two condos there; one on the beach. I rent them out now while I’m in America. But I will return in a couple years. I consider it my 2nd home now and it has a special place in my heart. It is just something you have to experience, travel. But Thailand in particular is so lovely. People are friendly and food is great and prices are always affordable.
If you go to any of the provinces you will find a very authentic Thailand. Cities like Bangkok and Pattaya are busy with tourists and tourism, but both are suitable for living if you are a foreigner like me. Many malls, many forms of transport, and they even have a sky train from one end of the city to the other. Imagine that! 
You only need to say “Swadee Ca” and that means hello, nice meeting you. With your hands together like in prayer which is called the WAI position. It is polite and how you greet everyone. 
I enjoyed teaching there very much.
Vietnam -- the northern area called Sapa is a very rural, village life. Simple, less polluted, and very poor. The geography or land is very beautiful and since it borders Nepal and Tibet, they have very similar land topography. Very interesting tribes of Vietnamese people live in Sapa and each denotes their tribe with a particular headband color. 
The city HoChin is not so friendly, and very busy like any city. But once you get to southern China you will find amazing architecture and a slower way of life. I enjoyed my time in Sapa as I traveled up mountains with a guide and met her family and traveled into various tribes to meet the people. The Red Dao people sew with their fingers and toes! I got pictures! 
I slept in HoChin for a couple nights and had nice food and bought some nice souvenirs, but I liked Sapa much more.  

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