Prolonged Absence incoming

Ok, so this will be a painfully short post, and sadly the last one for a bit.

Basically, I finished up teaching last Friday (the 20th) and then immediately made a trip to Hong Kong. One, for a last bit of sight-seeing. I’ve been there several times now (I think the count is at 5). Most of the time it has been to just grab some Western food and then head back to the mainland the same day. But I had also squeezed in some sightseeing. So I went back this one last time to hit a few of the last bits that I hadn’t seen (the Big Buddha on Lantau Island for example). Also, given that my current visa expired on June 2 and that I wanted to keep traveling a bit beyond that, I had to get a new one. The only way to do that is to leave the country (or go to HK) and apply for one. So I also did that.

Needless to say, got that done with no problems. And, am currently in the process of packing for a 3 week trip. I will be hitting beautiful Yunnan Province here in China, specifically Kunming and Dali (perhaps a day trip somewhere?) with my lovely friend Marguerite. And then from there it is off to Suzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai on two week solo adventure.

So, I will be out of touch for the next three weeks. I’ll be back in good ‘ole Shenzhen on June 13 and stay here until about June 20th relaxing and tying up any remaining loose ends. As well as (hopefully) finishing the stories of my SE Asia trip as well as a sort of farewell post as I imagine I will be even less likely to blog once I’m back in the States. We shall see.

So, apologies for the long break and the short post. But I must get back to packing…

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Apologies and Part 2: Siem Reap, Cambodia

So, first of all, yes, I know it has been a month since I last posted anything. The main reason is that wordpress had been either blocked or incredibly slow for the last month. And the second reason, I’ve just been busy, haha. But, without further delay, here is part two of my Spring Festival trip in Siem Reap.

So, as I mentioned back during the last post, it was delightfully hot in Cambodia. Now, yes, I know I’m from Michigan and shouldn’t be able to get cold that easy. But, I’m sorry, it was damn cold in Shenzhen during the winter, so the hot and humid climate of Cambodia was amazing.

So anyway, we arrived at our hostel, which, again, was incredibly nice. We ate dinner at the hostel and then took a brief stroll around the hostel. Our hostel was about a 5-10 minute Tuk-Tuk ride outside of the real downtownish area of Siem Reap. Fortunatley during the day, they offer free rides into town so on most days it was incredibly easy to get into the downtown area. But, since it was the first night, we figured we’d walk it and check it out. It was an incredibly interesting experience. At first you’re walking by these open-air restaurants/beer garden type places and then you reach a river and once you cross the river you have much higher quality buildings (including the Foreign Correspondents Club). But it was in this dichotomy (I wouldn’t say dichotomy is the best term but given the fact that I can’t think of a better word let’s go with it) that the true beauty of Siem Reap was found. And, what I mean by that is, it didn’t matter where you met a Cambodian person. Whether it was in the “poorer” district or the more well developed tourist area, these are the single nicest people on the face of the planet. Now, I know I mentioned it earlier, but it just bears repeating. The people at the hostel, the people that worked at the temples, the people that worked at restaurants, everyone, met you with a smile and a joy that I just simply have never experienced.

Now, stepping away from that, let’s get down to business shall we? Because at this point you’re thinking, “good lord, shut up, we get it, the people are nice, what the hell is the city like?” And, fair enough, let’s move on. So we went back to the hostel and got a good night’s rest. Our friend Stephanie was flying in the next morning from Singapore, so we got up early and had our complimentary breakfast (fried egg, fruit, and toast…yeah, did I say how awesome this place was…oh and we’re sitting outside in a bungalow…yeah) and waited for her to arrive on her tuk-tuk from the airport. Once she got there we decided to venture on to the big momma of temples. In case you were wondering, yeah, I’m talking about Angkor Wat. And everything you may have heard about it, read about it, or seen in pictures, they do not do it justice. The place is pretty incredible. We spent the better part of our day there and decided, since we were all there for a pretty hefty amount of time (9 days for Colin and I) that there was no need to rush through the complex (there are literally dozens of temples dotting the area around Angkor Wat). So after our time at Angkor we headed back to the city proper to explore the downtown.

One thing you immediately notice about Siem Reap is the massive number of tourists. I mean that in the most extreme way you can. Nearly everyone you see walking around the downtown/restaurant/bar district is varying shades of white (read: lots of f-ing tourists). There seemed to be an extremely large number of German tourists in particular. That’s not to say its bad, it’s just very jarring at first. I’ve been living in a country where, though you will see a few everyday, white/foreigners are the minority. So, to be in a country where I was suddenly surrounded by a bunch of people who looked exactly like me, was, well, strange. And I suppose good practice for getting back to the States, haha.

Anyway, so, Stephanie, Colin and I explored this downtown and grabbed dinner at one of the many Cambodian restaurants where I ate one of my, now, all-time favorite dishes. Khmer Amok (I have no idea what Amok means, but Khmer is in reference to the local culture/language of Khmer–and is somewhat well-known in the West from the dictatorial regime called the Khmer Rouge). Basically it’s a less spicy version of Thai Curry as it is made with coconut milk and other spices…soooo good. They will make it with any number of meats: fish, chicken, pork, beef. My particular favorite (and the first one I tried) was pork, although fish is the, sort of, “official” version. But to be honest, any of those meats paired with the Amok, just amazing. I ate a lot of it over those 9 days to say the least.

After exploring, eating, and grabbing a couple of cocktails at a local bar, we headed back to the hostel for an early-ish night. The reason being, we were going to head back to Angkor Wat first thing in the morning (ok, late evening really) to see the sunrise over the temple. So, yeah we had to get up early. 4:30am came far too early, but up we were and out the door by 5:30 to be at Angkor by 6:00. We arrived and got great spots right along one of the reflecting pools. The sun rose, and it was pretty spectacular, definitely worth the early call. We then trekked northward to the next complex of temples called Angkor Thom, including the spectacular Bayon Temple. For those of you wondering, the Bayon temple is the one in the pictures with the faces carved into the towers. It was pretty amazing to see this temple so early in the morning in the beautiful light. Also, we were delightfully mostly alone in this temple due to how early it was. This only added to how amazing this place was as most of the other tourists stuck around Angkor, which we had spent time in the day before.

We also trekked around the Elephant Terrace and the Terrace of the Leper King. We then grabbed, as expected at any other tourist site in the world, a very expensive lunch. However, we rather randomly ran into another group of CTLC teachers who were trekking through SE Asia as well. So we grabbed lunch, hit a few more temples and then headed back into the city. Now, I have to make a disclaimer here. There are quite literally dozens of temples in Siem Reap, and I’m pretty sure we hit all of them, so to say the least, I don’t remember all the names, especially the small ones. I’ll let you know what they are when I can, but from now on, it’ll be a lot we went to a temple…haha

Anyway it was back into town for a stroll through the night market. Which was, not surprisingly, very similar to other Asian markets I have seen, but with its own Cambodian twist. So we did some shopping and then headed back to the hostel, pretty beat based on the early day. Also, we were excited to be meeting up with some friends of ours the next day who would be coming in from a stint in Thailand and Laos.

So we met up with Julie and Evan and did some more temple exploring. The most notable of the temples we visited was what we commonly referred to as the “Tomb Raider Temple.” It has an actual name, Ta Prohm, but Tomb Raider Temple was just more fun to say. And, in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, this is the temple where they did some filming for the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movie. In the photos it is the one with all of the trees growing in, over and through the buildings. It’s pretty amazing to see these mammoth roots that have pushed their way through the walls of the temple. This temple was also a very popular tourist destination for that reason, so there was quite a large crowd. But, it was a pretty mammoth complex so it was easy to wander down a pathway and find yourself completely alone. We would actually make a return trip here later to see it a second time with other CTLC friends we would meet up with in Siem Reap. We also made another trip to Angkor Wat with Julie and Evan so they could check it out. Let me just tell you, it is still incredible the second (or third if you count the sunrise, although we didn’t go in) time around.

Alright, well this post is already getting a bit long and I’m only about 1/3 of my way through this SE Asia trip, so I’ll try and wrap it up here soon.

After exploring some lesser known temples and enjoying more lovely Cambodian food and culture we decided, along with James, Carter and Justin (more CTLCers) we would check out Banteay Srey. Banteay Srey is a temple complex about 2 hours outside of Siem Reap by Tuk Tuk. So the six of us set out relatively early (ehhh 10amish) to check out this complex.

Now, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon and some of those main temples in the central area may be well known, and spectacular in their own right. However, there is something pretty incredible about Banteay Srey. For one, it is, relatively speaking, left pretty much to nature. That is, there hasn’t been any real restoration done and the buildings are literally crumbling. Coming from China were everything seems to be artificial in a lot of ways whether it’s kitchy or an even attempt to make it look historically accurate yet still fake, it’s refreshing to see this complex that is literally falling apart. There was a sort of “tourist path” of elevated wood walkways and bridges that you could take should you chose to. However, you were welcomed (and in our case encouraged by a rather chatty security guard) to explore wherever you could squeeze your body. So there we were climbing, crawling, and exploring all the nooks and crannies we could. It was pretty spectacular and was probably my favorite place in Cambodia.

Now, again, I know it’s a long post, so bear with me, I’m getting towards the end.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the things that was the hardest to deal with in Cambodia. And that is the poverty aspect. There is just a lot of poverty. And, one way they seem to try and fight the poverty is to use children as collection systems. That is, they send the children out either with books, or trinkets or whatever and try to sell them to you. These kids all speak English and all have that look you’ve read about. The I am poor please help me look. The hardest part about it is, you know that whatever money you give those kids, they will never see any of it. Now that’s not entirely true, but it’s definitely something you have to think about. We met some girls at one of the temples, they were probably in there mid-teens who seemed to be selling stuff to help their families when they weren’t in school. Were they just telling us that to get us to buy things? Perhaps, but they seemed to be telling the truth so some of the people we were traveling with felt less bad buying stuff from them.

But, in Siem Reap proper, it was just depressing. Here are these sweet, adorable children, who again all speak varying levels of English, basically being pimped out to get money from tourists. It’s really sad, and makes you feel particularly bad and perhaps a bit exploitative by being in their country. Knowing full well that your life was exponentially easier than theirs.

Now, that being said (and to try not end this post on a completely dour note), these children had their moments of hilarity. And I will end this post on my favorite story from our time in Siem Reap. We had been mobbed by a bunch of children selling bracelets, post cards and what have you outside a temple (couldn’t tell you which one). We managed to escape all but one who was particularly persistent with Colin. Colin said he would look at her stuff when we got back, probably hoping she would be gone or forget. She didn’t. So there she was patiently waiting as we hit the exit. Now if you look through the photos there should be one or two of a girl with beaded bracelets talking to Colin and Stephanie, this the girl. Colin really didn’t want to buy a bracelet, I mean really didn’t want to. But she was insistent. One of these kids favorite tactics was to produce information that would impress us. For example, they would ask where we were from. We say America, they say: “Oh America, capital: Washington, DC, President Obama.” So by the time this girl came up we had heard that speech quite a few times.

So, as she’s going though that speech, Colin interrupts and says, I know you know all that stuff, you all do. Without missing a beat she says, “OK, fine. How about you name a country and if I know they capital you buy my bracelet?” Now, a bit of background, Colin is particularly well known for being some sort of Geography savant. He literally knows every country and capital in the world. Why? I have no idea, but he does. So anyway, this girls says this and he thinks she’s played right into his wheelhouse, and this sly grin comes across his face and you can tell he thinks he’s got her. So, he agrees. And says, “Ok, what’s the capital of Estonia?” Now, I dare any of you to know the answer to that question without reading ahead or looking it up on Wikipedia. I know I didn’t know it. Without hesitation the girl yells out, “Tallinn!” To which Colin exclaimed “Holy Shit!! Fair enough literal girl, you win. How the hell did you know that?” Apparently she had learned from other European tourists, who knew? But Colin stayed true to his word and bought an orange and brown beaded bracelet.

So there you have it, a long, not particularly coherent account of my time in Cambodia. I skipped a lot (the floating village, temples, food, Cambodian waitresses hitting on Colin), but tried to hit the high points. You’ll just have to talk to me about if you want more stories, because this post is already way too long. So, next time I’ll talk about the beginning of our trip through Vietnam!

Until next time…

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Spring Festival Trip Part 1: Siem Reap, Cambodia

So the plan is to make this a multi-part/sequence of posts about my trip during Spring Festival. Not sure how much I will cover in this first one, but I will at least get to Cambodia. So at minimum it will be two, but perhaps more posts about my trip.

For those of you that don’t know, Spring Festival is one of the multitude of names that are given to the break we are given for the Chinese New Year celebration. Basically, think of it along the same lines as Christmas in the States. It’s about on par with that in terms of cultural importance. The date of Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year to be more precise since several Asian countries (i.e. Vietnam, Thailand, etc.) celebrate it, changes every year. This year it fell on February 3. So, basically, most Chinese workers get a week to two weeks off to return to their hometowns and celebrate the new year.

Fortunately, a few things worked into my favor for this holiday. One, which was a benefit for most of the foreign teachers, is that the schools end their semesters just before the New Year (just like the US with Christmas) and give their kids exams leading up the last day. So most of the teachers got free before the actual date anyway. But the second thing was that the schools closed up for about 3 weeks instead of the typical 10-days to two weeks of other businesses. And, the best thing for me was that not only did my school want to use my class periods for exams, but they also wanted an extra few weeks to review and use my class periods for that. They asked me if I would mind giving up those classes and be done teaching on December 31. Really it took all my energy not to jump up and down cheering. Of course you can have my classes!

Anyway, suffice to say, I had six weeks paid vacation…yeah, I was pretty happy about that. I spent the first two weeks of that basically putting the finishing touches on my grad school applications as those deadlines were looming and I needed to get everything submitted by early to mid January. I promise no more posts about that. Also, we had to push back our start date by about a week or so because my traveling partner, Colin, had a family emergency and had to return to the States for a couple of weeks. So, I took the time to relax and enjoy the free time when not doing grad school stuff (last reference, I swear). But, once the day finally arrived, I was like a little bundle of joy. I love traveling, and Colin and I were off to experience Cambodia and Vietnam for the next three weeks.

Of course, we still had to get to the airport. We live in Shenzhen, literally across the river from Hong Kong, and a city of some 13 million people. Yet, for some reason, the airport sucks. It doesn’t offer many flights and the ones they do offer outside of China, are EXPENSIVE! So, we booked flights out of Guangzhou, about a 2-3 hour drive away. Not a big deal, get on a bus, ride there, get on the plane. The only reason I bring it up, is that my trip almost ended before it began. We got to the airport much quicker than we expected and were unable to check in for awhile, so we grabbed lunch and then Colin decided he wanted coffee and I wanted either tea or hot chocolate. So we find a coffee shop and sit down, and we had pulled out our passports since we thought we were checking in (we hadn’t) but I didn’t put it back in my passport thingy (technical term for it). I had just stuck it in my jacket pocket. Well, I didn’t want to bend it so I took it out and set in on the table and thought, “oh, i’ll just grab it before I leave.” Well, I’m guessing you’ve figured out what happened. Yeah, I didn’t grab it. Just left it there. In the middle of a coffee shop, in Guangzhou, China. Thankfully, we were literally the only people there, so one of the lovely baristas came hauling ass after us, my passport in hand to give it back to me. So close to being so screwed.

Anyway, crisis averted, we check-in to our flight with relative ease. Although, we inadvertently lined up in the domestic travel line, and thoroughly confused the guy behind the counter. “Ni qu na li?” (Where are you going?). “Siem Reap.” “Na li? (where?)” “Siem Reap, Cambodia.” Ticket guy is now completely flabbergasted and switches to English, “Where you go?” “Cambodia.” “What?” “Jian pu zhai (Cambodia in Chinese)” “OH! You are in wrong line.” Oh China, so many mistakes, so few blog posts to talk about them all.

Alas, finally after getting in the right line, we go through customs quickly without any problems and are just waiting to fly out. Now, before I tell you this, bear in mind that during the months of August and September, Shenzhen is hot. And I don’t mean Michigan in the summer hot. I don’t even mean DC in the summer hot. I mean, HOT. AND. HUMID. So, suffice to say, we had adjusted. Unfortunately, it also gets semi-cold here. Again, not Michigan or DC cold, but cold enough that you notice. And, in its infinite wisdom, the Chinese government has a policy of no central heat in southern China. Don’t ask why, I don’t know, and even if I did, I’m sure it wouldn’t make any sense. I just roll with it. Anyway, by this time in January it is FREEZING. I mean really can see your breath at 2pm in the afternoon cold. I got on the plane shivering I’m pretty sure.

And it was amazing. The plane landed, the door opened and it was hot and humid again! So nice. Siem Reap is a relatively quaint little town. Not small (supposedly close to a million residents, though I dispute that), but definitely a small townish feeling. You get to walk out of the airplane and down the stairs and then walk into the airport, not jet ways or boarding gates here. Then you go through the immigration process of getting your visa issued. Basically pay a guy at one end of a desk $20, your passport and give him a picture of you, walk to the other end of the counter and pick up said passport with new handwritten visa inside.

From there, it was out the front door to find our tuk tuk driver who would take us to our hostel. For those of you that don’t know, a tuk tuk is a common SE Asian mode of transportation, especially for tourists (if not exclusively). Basically, it’s a motorbike of some kind, hooked to a covered cart that can sit from 2 to 4 people. All open air, no windows or anything. Although they did have soft-sides (similar to convertible car tops) that you could roll down in the event of rain. Fortunately for our nine days in Cambodia, not a drop of rain fell. But we were whisked away by our snarky little driver. “Too many tourists come to Cambodia” was our greeting after exchanging pleasantries on the walk from the front door to the tuk tuk. Then we had a lovely evening ride (we arrived around 7 or 8) to our hostel. Well, they called it a hostel, but it was a hotel. And, an incredibly nice one at that. Yet, also incredibly cheap. With Colin and I splitting the cost of a room with our own private bathroom, room, TV etc. (envision a rather large mid-range hotel in the States, i.e. Hyatt), we each paid about $8 a day. Yeah, cheap.

Also, this hostel was staffed by some of the nicest people I have ever met. To be fair, this was just the first in a long line of experiences in Cambodia. This may be a dirt poor country, but damned if they don’t have the nicest people in the world. Everyone is always smiling, happy to see you, happy to talk to you (sometimes too much so), etc. Just some of the most genuinely nice people I have ever met, and on such a large scale. I mean, don’t get me wrong in China and in the US the people are by and large nice. But you’ll run into people throughout the day who are cranky and having a bad day and inadvertently take it out on you. I never felt that way in Cambodia, or Vietnam for that matter. But in Cambodia, just the most genuinely nice people in the world.

Well, this post is already bordering on dissertation length, so I’ll tell one more interesting story/experience and then start on the actual travel stories with the next post.

One of the strangest things about Cambodia was, the money. And it’s not because of what you might think. It’s not that their money in and of itself is strange, because, to us, its not. Why you might ask? Because its ours. Yup, they use US Dollars. They also have their own currency, but by and large, all transactions are done in US Dollars. I’m actually not even sure how you get Riel (their currency) outside of a cashier giving it to you, because when you go to an ATM, which Colin did the first night we were there, it spit out US Dollars. Which also begs the question, where the hell do they get our money from? But again, it’s just strange to not only be using US money again, but it was even weirder to be using it in SE Asia of all places. In fact, what would happen a lot is, something would be $1.50, and you would pay the $1 in US cash, and the $.5 in Riel (1000 Riel=$.25). Fortunately, we knew about the money situation beforehand, so we weren’t stuck with a ton of Riel and nothing to spend it on. I had switched my Chinese RMB into US Dollars at the Guangzhou airport. Still, all in all, just a very strange experience. The biggest downside to all of this, is that outside of the hostel, things were drastically cheap. They weren’t expensive by any stretch, but not dirt cheap either. Because there are so many tourists there, they charge higher prices, and those prices are in dollars, not some adjusted local currency. So, spent a bit more money in Cambodia than I anticipated, but still cheap by any true American standard.

Ok, I suppose that’s enough for one post. Whet your appetite a bit (if you can call nearly 1800 words just whetting) for more travel stories to come. Feel free to wander on over to my photo site: http://trevorinchina.shutterfly.com. The government has ceased blocking shutterfly of late, so I was able to upload all of my travel pictures from Spring festival. So feel free to enjoy. No captions yet, but you can still take a gander and hopefully as I post about my trip, they will have greater context for you. So look forward to stories of temples, and temples, and, well, temples to come in part 2 which will be all Cambodia

Until next time…

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And…it’s official

So this post will be short and sweet, I actually promise this time.

I just wanted to let everyone know, that it is official today/tonight, I will be moving back to Washington, DC to attend the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

It was an incredibly tough decision. I mean, granted, being forced to choose between the top schools in International Affairs (Columbia, SAIS, and Georgetown; although it was more of a decision between Columbia and Hopkins) is not the worst choice I will ever have to make. Though, in this case I was almost wish one or two of them would have denied me just to make it easier on me, haha.

That being said, the decision came down to basically 2 things. #1 SAIS’ program is tailored just slightly better/more to my liking than Columbia’s. It’s a bit broader and think gives me a bit more flexibility post-graduation. And #2 SAIS offered me a scholarship. Not a huge one mind you, but every little bit helps.

So there ya have it. Finally made a choice and paid the deposit. I will officially be coming back to DC sometime in July (just tell them to keep the 4th of July parade route clear for me 😉 ). I’m thinking mid to late July since Hopkins has a pre-term program so that I can get one of my economics requirements out of the way early.

And, now the egomaniacal posts about my post-China plans have been completed I hope. The next post will return to more, I hope, interesting stories of my trip through Cambodia and Vietnam.

Until next time…

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Decision Time

So, as promised, here is the post about grad school since a few of you have been asking about where I am going, who I have heard from, when do I have to make a decision by etc.

The plan will be for this post to be relatively brief, but given my proclivity for being verbose, that could always change. I also feel this will be as much an update for you as it will be a process for me to help work out my decision. And so it begins.

To give you just a quick background, I took the GRE in July just before coming to China, and did fairly well (decidedly better than I ever actually expected to). The plan was to then move over here to teach/study Chinese and apply to Grad Schools from here. Before I left I did a fair amount of research and narrowed down the schools that had programs that I liked and were well respected in the International Relations field (that will be my degree in case you were unclear of that).

Now, I know what you are thinking: “eight schools? really? Isn’t than an awful lot?” Yes, indeed it is, but in my paranoia (as well with my plan of applying to at least 3 of the top programs in the world, I felt it was only safe to apply to quite a few, just in case. So in case you were wondering here is the list of schools I applied to, in relatively hierarchical order (favorite to good, but not #1 choice):

1. Johns Hopkins University-SAIS
1a. Columbia University-SIPA
2. Georgetown
3. George Washington
4. University of Denver
5. American University
6. University of California-San Diego
7. University of Washington

Now, the thought process I had was, there’s likely no way I get into either Columbia or Johns Hopkins, but I really liked both programs a lot and between those two and Georgetown are routinely three of the top four schools in the world along with the London School of Economics for IR degrees. Georgetown I thought I might have a chance, but was again a bit of a stretch in my mind. George Washington, Denver, etc. I thought I could probably get in based on work experience, GRE scores etc.

So, those were the schools I “narrowed” it down to before I came to China. Then, I knew once I got here I would have the lovely arduous process of filling out applications and writing personal statements. Which, was even more fun than I realized. See, unlike those of you that attended law school and only had to write one personal statement, I had to write 8 separate statements. They all had similarities, but each school (notably Hopkins and Columbia) asked different questions or got to different aspects of what we wanted out of the school.

As a result, this is the part of the post that will require me to issue a number of thank yous. Most notably I need to thank the lovely and talented Julie and Marguerite. The two of them not only put up with numerous complaints and help working through ideas I had while writing these statements and essays, but also read each and every draft of those statements. Several schools required multiple essays, so figure at least 10-11 statements, and numerous versions of each of those. So I cannot thank the two of them enough. I also can’t forget to thank my letter of recommendation writers: Professor Louise Jezierski, Professor Gene Burns, and Amanda Renteria. I know letters are a huge part of the admissions process, so they must have written some incredible letters on my behalf.

The reason I say that is, miraculously, I was accepted into each and every program I applied to, including Johns Hopkins and Columbia. Overjoyed would be putting it mildly to say the least. However, there is one downside to being accepted to both schools…now I have to choose between the two of them…ugh.

I have to say, a year ago today if you would have asked me which school I wanted to go to, everything being equal, I would have said Hopkins would be the choice, hands down. And, they are probably still the front-runner at this point, but there are certainly things that I have learned about Columbia that really attract me there as well. A big reason is the internationalness of the program. Is that a word? Nope, and yet they let me teach English to Chinese children (what the hell were they thinking?), but I digress. About half of the program at Columbia is International students (as opposed to around 35-40% of Hopkins’ program). I think that adds a huge benefit to the program. Also, Columbia is in NYC. How many chances do you have to live in NYC? Who knows if I’ll ever get that chance again. So there are two huge pros in the Columbia column.

Hopkins has a lot going for it to though. Firstly, I like the structure of the program a bit better. It has a greater focus on economics and is a bit broader on the whole (my IR degree would include focuses on the aforementioned Economics as well as China studies). Giving me a bit more flexibility going forward beyond graduate school into the job market. Also, Hopkins’ IR program is housed right in downtown DC. A city I love, have lived in, and am comfortable with making the transition there a lot easier. Also, cost is certainly a concern when it comes to graduate school. I will have a tremendous amount of debt coming out of whichever program. Both programs cost about the same (Hopkins ever so slightly cheaper because living costs are slightly lower in DC). However, Hopkins has offered me a bit of a scholarship. Not a huge one, but every little bit helps.

So, suffice to say, I have a tough decision to make here in the very near future. Granted, as some of you have already said, if this is the hardest decision I have to make in life, I’m doing alright, haha. My goal is to have a decision made by around Friday or sometime this weekend. I have a deadline coming up to accept if I want to keep my Hopkins scholarship.

So, this post is already far longer than I expected, and is serving to be more therapeutic than interesting for anyone other than me. So, I apologize for that. I promise the next post will more than likely be brief and just letting you all know where I intend to go to grad school; but the one after that will get back to better/interesting posts. The plan is to recount my Spring Festival travel around Southeast Asia, so you have that to look forward to.

Until next time…

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Wow am I bad at this…

Ok, well, clearly I am not very good at this whole blogging thing…

And sadly, I don’t really have a good reason for not posting other than I’ve just been busy and quite lazy. I’m only here for a few more months so I’m going to try and do a somewhat regular posting system, but we’ve all seen how well that has gone in the past.

So, I get the feeling that these posts will be a fair bit of rambling and random thoughts as my time in China winds down. Speaking of which, when the hell did it become March 21!? Wow does time fly.

Speaking of time winding down, I have an official end date for teaching: May 24. And, I’m sure there are those of you out there going: “wait a minute. I’ve heard that China has this rigorous education system, etc. etc. They must teach longer than the end of May?” Well dear friends, that is true. They do in fact teach well into July in fact. However, being a foreign teacher and the education bureau making a big mistake has allowed us an even earlier end date than we ourselves thought we would get. So let me regale you with tales of a bureaucracy gone wrong (an unlikely tale I think you’d all agree 😉

So, when we first arrived in China we were on tourist visas as most people who work in China are. You get here, get settled (or in our case spend a couple weeks doing training in Beijing and then finally settle in Shenzhen), and then your employer or program takes over and gets you the necessary work visa. Unless of course you work for a shady organization and then they just tell you to keep getting tourist visas until the country catches on and boots you. Fortunately, our organization is the former and we get sweet work visas for foreign nationals. Basically we can come and go from China as often as we want for as long as the visa is valid.

And, here friends, is where we run into a little snafu. See, we filled out all the forms over the course of a day that also included education interviews, police interviews, immigration interviews, probably some other kind of interview that I have since purged from my memory. Anyway, on our forms we all indicated that we wanted our visas to be valid until July 15. We were hopeful that would be the case, but at the very least we expected that they would at least last til the end of the contract that Shenzhen Education Bureau wrote for us stating that we would be teaching until June 15. Well…not so much. We received our visas in September and the visas are only valid until June 2. My guess (and I could be very wrong) is some clerical error occurred and they meant to indicate July 2, and June 2 came up. But who knows. Regardless, we were told that it wouldn’t be an issue and that the Education Bureau and the Public Security Bureau would iron it out and we would get visas reissued that lasted until at least June 15.

Well, the months passed by and we had heard nothing. We hit January, and this is the month that we are supposed to be scheduling our flights back to the U.S. But, we don’t know when our visas will be valid til. Well, by early February the Education Bureau had made the decision that it was just too much work to recollect the passports, and the necessary forms to reissue the visas and that the June 2 date would stand. Meaning, we would have to be done somewhat earlier than that. Thus the bizarrely arbitrary date of Tuesday, May 24 was chosen. Why not the previous Friday? Why not that upcoming Friday? No one really knows. So two days worth of classes will be lucky enough to be watching English movies those two days….

So, given this information I thought, “great, an extra 3 weeks off! I can do more traveling that I had planned!” So I booked a flight back to the U.S. for July 2 (really July 1 since the first flight leaves Hong Kong at 12:50am on the 2nd, but that’s just complaining). My thinking was, spend a couple weeks traveling around China and hopefully (money still being in the bank account) a couple weeks in Japan, a country I have desperately wanted to visit for years.

However, the tragic events that have befallen that country have certainly caused me to change my plans. I was thinking of flying to Tokyo, spending a few days there and then heading South to Osaka and Kyoto. So, it is certainly not fear of radiation or health reasons that I am now choosing not to go, but rather the fact that for the next 6 months or so I’m sure their infrastructure and public transportation systems are going to be taxed enough without adding one more foreign tourist to the list. Hopefully, I’ll get another chance to visit sometime in the future, but for now I’ll send some of the money I would have spent over in donations for the relief efforts and send my thoughts to all the people who have been affected by the tragedy and the thousands that are still missing.

Wow, this is a long post… Ok, I promise I’m coming to the end.

The other factor that has occurred recently (and will be a post of its own at some point in the near future) is that I have received all of the responses from the grad schools I applied to during the winter. Shockingly I have gotten into every school I applied to! I swear, the admissions committees had to have been drunk when they were reading my submissions.

But in all honesty, it is a truly humbling experience. I applied to 8 schools in the way that you are taught to: 2-3 schools you would love to go to, but think perhaps are out of reach; 2-3 schools you think you can get into but there is a chance you might just miss out; and 2 schools you know you can get into and are your “back-ups.” Who would have thought I would get yeses from all 8?! (aside from you mother). I truly have to thank all three of my letter of recommendation writers: Professor Gene Burns, Professor Louise Jezierski, and Amanda Renteria. I know letters of recommendation are among the most important parts of the application packet and without them, I wouldn’t be writing this post with a smile on my face.

And, I of course have to thank Marguerite and Julie. Those two lovely ladies had the excruciating job of proof-reading dozens of drafts of 8-10 versions of personal statements and other essays that were required for these applications. I will certainly thank them again in the post that focuses on the whole grad school thing, but I couldn’t mention grad school without thanking those 5 people.

Anyway, back to the point at hand, one of the schools I was accepted by (and am seriously leaning towards attending) is Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and they have a program that starts July 25, so that also accelerated my timeline of wanting to get back to the States, so that I would have enough time to see family and friends in Michigan and Ohio that I have missed, and also get my ass back out to DC for that program.

Pfew, ok, as of this word write now I am at 1248 words for this post, that’s pretty disgusting. And, props to you if you’ve made it this far. As I mentioned I’m going to try and get consistent on posts here for the last few months and get you all some stories of my time in China and my trips to Cambodia and Vietnam, and of course a post about grad school.

So, until next time…

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At long last…I am finally posting again

Ok, so this post comes a long time after the last one, which also came a long time after the previous one…sorry about that. My goal for the next few months is to try and be somewhat more consistent with posts…no promises but that’s the goal at least.

Now, I will warn you now (as you no doubt can see) that this post is going to be painfully short and frankly is just a notice that I’m back, still alive, and will be putting up more posts in the near future.

I have several stories I will attempt to tell. There was Christmas in Shenzhen (China-strange? Yes indeed) as well as my recent trip through SE Asia in Cambodia and Vietnam. So there’s at least two there. When will they go up? Not sure yet. I’m hoping to get one up in the next few days here, so look forward to that either tomorrow or Monday hopefully.

Until then, rest assured that more posts are coming at some point.

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