Category Archives: Transportation

On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Rockhouse

I cannot remember exactly when or where I first learned of Rockhouse. I am sure it was in one of the many travel blogs or articles that I find myself reading on a regular basis. What I do remember is that from the first moment I saw the clear blue water and thatched huts nestled among the tropical trees, I knew I had to go there. If you’ve ever heard me talk about my list of places I want to travel, you know it is quite (probably impossibly) long. Despite that, I added not just Jamaica, but specifically Rockhouse to that list.

This brings me to last February. As I often do, I was sending Brandon several travel deals and ideas. And then came the moment when he said, “Sure! Let’s do it.” This is not a moment that happens often, for if it did we would be broke and homeless. Someone has got to put the brakes on my travel addiction. At the time, I had put together a plan to go to Singapore with some frequent flyer miles I had earned through two credit card signup bonuses. Although that particular plan did not end up working out, because I had gotten Brandon to agree to take a trip, I kept researching what our other options might be.

Enter Jamaica. This is where the stars aligned and everything came together.

First, Jamaica itself. Although I had heard mixed things about it (some people loved it, some did not), I had a feeling it would be the kind of place we would love. This would also be Brandon’s first international trip. Although I am not opposed to the challenges of international travel because I have also experienced the life-changingness of it, I wanted to minimize the chance of difficulties (I’ve had some humdingers in recent years) and go to a place that would be relatively easy (e.g., fewer language barriers, a place frequented by tourists where the customs process wouldn’t be overwhelming, etc.) where we could also get off the beaten and experience the unfamiliar. Plus, Brandon loves reggae music and I knew the food would be great and the beaches would be beautiful. I wanted to find a place that would get Brandon as hooked as I am on traveling outside of the US. Jamaica seemed to be juuuust right.

Second, availability. Rockhouse books out months, sometimes up to a year, in advance. Reward flight availability is sometimes tricky to find. Put those things together and finding a time that worked was a small miracle. But find a time I did and it just happened to be around our two year dating anniversary in September. This meant going during the low season, but by the end of the trip, we felt that we actually preferred that; it also meant that Rockhouse was affordable for us during that time. Even better, going to Jamaica instead of Singapore meant I would have more airline miles available for another trip down the line (those points may or may not already be used now, but you’ll just have to wait and see…).

I love it when a plan comes together.

Then we just had to wait the 6 1/2 months from the time we booked the trip until we left. Thankfully, we had a busy spring and summer to keep us distracted, but we both spent the months leading up to the trip anticipating our week in Jamaica. We talked about what we wanted to do and reminded each other, in those moments when we were feeling stressed or overwhelmed, about how amazing it would be. And I love that part. A week’s vacation is so short and I love stretching the enjoyment of it with the anticipation and planning. And I love getting to blog about the trip and relive it once I return. But there’s always the risk that a long awaited trip won’t quite live up to the expectations and excitement.

So it was with much excitement and a hint of trepidation that we set out on our Jamaican adventure.

Because I had used reward points, our routing was a bit circuitous, but it actually worked out. Although Jamaica was not significantly impacted by hurricanes over the summer, much of the Caribbean was, as were the airports we would have been most likely to fly through if we had taken a more typical route. For instance, the Miami airport was closed on the days of our flights to Jamaica. But, we were far from Miami as we flew from Eugene to San Francisco to Panama to Jamaica. (Side note here, make sure that you familiarize yourself with all entry requirements before going to a country. Because we flew through Panama, we had to have yellow fever vaccines to enter Jamaica. If I had not read the small print about this requirement being applied even to those who transited through affected countries, we would have been denied entry to Jamaica. Vacation ruined). We also had some super long layovers, so I used all my tricks to make the flights as painless as possible.

I brought some good books that did not require the use of technology. I had audiobooks on my phone as backup, but I prefer to read the old fashioned way on vacation.
We used our long layover in SFO to catch up with family and friends before our technology connections would be limited to wifi.
I dressed for comfort (yes, I may have bought an entirely new outfit just for this purpose)
Best of all, I used the two United Club day passes I had to get entry into the lounge in the international terminal. It is not the best lounge ever, but it was better than waiting in the terminal and the free food and drinks helped a long layover pass more quickly.
Lounge snacks

And I made sure this guy had a good meal before getting on our overnight flight to Panama. You never know how airplane food is going to be, especially because we were flying an airline – Copa Airlines – that I had never flown before. We had dinner at 1300 on Fillmore, which is at the end of the international terminal.
A French 75 and a Fillmore Kiss – Jim Beam, raspberry liqueur, peach schnapps, and sour mix
Some fried okra
Smoked mac n cheese (mine is still better)
And a delicious fried chicken sandwich

Feeling relaxed with full bellies, we both managed to get a bit of sleep on our overnight flight, but we were feeling rather bedraggled by the time we arrived in Panama. Thankfully, we had plenty of time to get coffee before our (relatively) short flight to Jamaica. There was a great moment when Brandon went to pay for the coffee, pulled out a (US) $20, and then realized that $20 bill definitely wouldn’t pay for the coffee (although, to be fair, I had told him that US money is widely accepted in Jamaica; between the cash we had on hand and the use of credit cards, we never had to visit an ATM in Jamaica).

I’ll be honest, by this point we were both pretty done with traveling. We had left Oregon the previous afternoon, spent 6 hours in the San Francisco airport, flown another 8 – 9 hours to Panama and arrived early in the morning. We were ready to be in Jamaica!

Thankfully, the two hour flight to paradise was short and sweet. We could feel the excitement mounting as we peeked out the window to get our first glance of the island.

Let’s get off this plane!!!

Of course, even as we landed, we knew the hassle was not yet done. We still had to get through customs, which was a little slow and at times chaotic. But we made it! Thankfully, I had pre-booked our transportation from the airport with Gary’s Jamaican Taxi, a company out of Negril. Our driver, Fabian, was wonderful and we would end up calling him again for transportation during the week. We flew into Montego Bay, so it was an hour and a half drive from the airport to Negril on the west coast. But the car was comfortable, the scenic drive along the coast was incredible, and the reggae music playing on the radio helped us settle into our vacation. Fabian made sure to point out the two most common buildings in Jamaica – churches and bars, usually right next to one another.

And then we arrived. We arrived at a place I had been dreaming about, literally for years. It was almost like a dream as we pulled up to the open air front desk and were greeted with rum punches and friendly smiles. From that moment, all of the stress and fatigue of traveling became unequivocally worthwhile.

We were personally shown to our room and given a brief overview of the property. Sadly, even in low season we could not afford one of the villas. Not so sadly, our studio room with an ocean view balcony was absolutely perfect.

There was even an outdoor shower with lovely local bath products and the best smelling aloe vera I’ve ever used.

It was immediately apparent that this was a special place well beyond the average Jamaican resort. Obviously, the room was wonderful. Created to reflect a genuine sense of place, the building materials were locally sourced and the design was uniquely Jamaican. But it was so much more than that. There was a clear commitment to making sure guests had an incredible experience. Staff got to know us by name, which is possible when there are only 36 rooms and villas. Moreover, it was a company committed to the community around it. The employees were clearly valued and seemed to enjoy working at the resort. The Rockhouse Foundation has built or transformed schools throughout the area and while we were there, a fifth school, the first school in the region devoted entirely to children with special needs, was soon to be opened. They do all of this while being committed to green environmental practices. A stay at Rockhouse is a special experience and well worth the $125 per night that we paid for our studio room.

And it was not just a beautiful room. The entire property was a tropical garden. Located in the area of Negril known as The Cliffs, there was no beach. However, the water was easily accessible by the bright red ladders placed throughout the property and the tradeoff was a greater sense of solitude than could be found at the large beach resorts. We spent our first afternoon in Jamaica simply exploring, finding all the little nooks and crannies hidden throughout the resort. Little did I know that Brandon had another purpose for all of the exploring…

My handsome man taking in the view

Because of the hurricane, the waves were too high to get into the water and the pool was closed that first afternoon, but there would be plenty of time for that later. For the moment, we enjoyed being in a beautiful place and being together. We took in the views and slowly recovered from our long flights. Rockhouse was everything I hoped it would be and so much more.

 

 

 

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South Korea: Fueled by Coffee and Friendship Part II

This series of posts is pretty much all about what not to do while traveling. It’s generally not a great idea to plan a 72-hour trip to Asia from the US, especially when considering the 30+ hours of travel time. It’s probably not the smartest approach to drink large amounts of coffee just to stay upright and functional. And, although staying active in a new time zone is an important part of counteracting jet lag, going non-stop from 6 am until after midnight the day after you arrive in a new country, definitely not recommended. And yet, that’s exactly what I did.

Coffee #5: My day started earlier than desired. I woke up around 1:30 am, again around 3:45 am, and couldn’t stay in bed a minute longer at 5 am.

What do you do when you wake up at 5 am and can't go back to sleep? Drink a cup of coffee and FaceTime your boyfriend, for whom is it is 11 am of the previous day.
What do you do when you wake up at 5 am and can’t go back to sleep? Drink a cup of coffee and FaceTime your boyfriend, for whom is it is 11 am of the previous day.

Shannon and I got an extra early start toward the Lotte Hotel where we were meeting for our all day DMZ tour. We had booked a tour through VIP travel. Tuesday through Friday, the tour offers hotel pickup, but on Saturdays the tour meets at a major Seoul hotel. Knowing we did not want to miss our 8 am tour time, we left extra early to allow ourselves plenty of time to navigate the subway system. Although what I discuss below will suggest otherwise, it is actually quite simple to get around Seoul. You can buy a reloadable T-card at a 7-11 or CU store and then add money to it at the readily available kiosks inside the stations. The card can be used in the subway, for taxis, buses, and other forms of transportation. Transportation is also affordable. The entire time I was there, I put 10,000 won (less than $10) on my T-card and spent another 5,000 won for the bus ride to the airport. Loading my T-card was one of the few times I needed cash, which I had withdrawn from the ATM at the airport the night before.

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DSC01779But back to the story. Good thing we left early, because we apparently lost all ability to successfully function. We could not figure out how to buy a reloadable T-card, so purchased a single ride card. Which then stopped working, leaving me unable to exit the subway station. Shannon stood on the other side of the barrier as I, only mildly panicked, figured out how to buy another card. Which also did not work (which I later realized was probably because I had not used that card to enter the subway system). Through some combination of desperation and magical thinking, I managed to get my single ride card functioning again, just in time for us to walk very quickly to our next subway…as it pulled away. Despite the series of debacles, we managed to make it to the hotel (and then, of course, take the incorrect elevator) before finally making it to the check-in desk for the tour. It really shouldn’t have been that difficult.

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The hotel was gorgeous!
The hotel was gorgeous!

The trouble we had navigating what is actually a rather straightforward subway system could only mean one thing, time for

Coffee #6: After checking in for the tour and being directed to the bus, we had 30 minutes to find the nearby Starbucks.

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This picture truly captures our feelings about the iconic and beautiful green sign.
This picture truly captures our feelings about the iconic and beautiful green sign. We both ordered venti toffee nut lattes.

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 Now we are prepared to tour the DMZ.

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The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a line running 155 miles east to west across Korea, dividing the peninsula in two. After a cease fire was signed in 1953 a line, referred to as the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), was literally drawn across the country in the form of regularly placed markers. The DMZ is the area on either side of the MDL – 2 kilometers to the north and 2 kilometers to the south. With a few exceptions, this area is primarily uninhabited and makes for one heck of an interesting day tour, even if one has to submit one’s passport in advance of the tour and undergo multiple security screenings. On the South Korean side, there is a highly militarized area just south of the DMZ, called the Civilian Control Area, that is also generally inaccessible to the public.

Our first stop was Dora Observatory. Located on a mountain, the observatory offers a great viewpoint of areas within the DMZ, as well as the southern part of North Korea. For about 500 won (less than 50 cents), you can use binoculars to get an even better view.

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After getting an overview of the area above ground, we headed underground at the 3rd Tunnel. Opportunities to take pictures were limited to prior to entering the tunnel. It is one of the four discovered tunnels that were reportedly built by North Korea in order to infiltrate South Korea.

The hard hats were not superfluous. While in the tunnel, the primary sounds were shoes squeaking on the wet, rubbery, floor of the tunnel and hardhats hitting the very low ceilings. Even I had a couple close calls.
The hard hats were not superfluous. While in the tunnel, the primary sounds were shoes squeaking on the wet, rubbery floor of the tunnel and hardhats hitting the very low ceilings. Even I had a couple close calls.
We took a very steep monorail down to where the tunnel began and could walk right to the edge of where it crossed into North Korea. It was hard not to imagine soldiers quietly marching through the tunnels.
We took a very steep monorail down to where the tunnel began and could walk right to the edge of where it crossed into North Korea. It was hard not to imagine soldiers quietly marching through the tunnel.

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The next stop was Dorasan Station, the northernmost train stop in South Korea. For a brief period of time trains carried freight between the two sides of the peninsula. However, there have been no trains between the two countries since 2008. The station is eerily quiet and now serves almost exclusively as a tourist destination. To me, it also seemed to represent the conflicting and mutually held beliefs expressed throughout the tour: that North Korea is the enemy and yet that reunification is desired. It is certainly a complicated part of the world with no easy solutions.

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Despite the smile on my face, by this point, I was dragging. I felt terrible. I was getting a headache and all I wanted was to take a nap. Thankfully, it was time for lunch. My vegetarian bibimbap was delicious, although rather hard to capture in a photo.

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Shan's dish was some type of beef stew of sorts with all kinds of veggies.
Shan’s dish was a beef stew of sorts with all kinds of veggies.

Despite the venti coffee earlier, not even lunch was sufficient to perk me up. So…

Coffee #7: My post-lunch coffee is a type of coffee that is popular in Korea. It was powdered coffee, sugar, and creamer all in one. Not my favorite, but it got the job done. As in, I no longer felt like I was going to die within the hour. Maybe by the end of the day, but at least not within the hour.

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After lunch, our first stop was Imjingak Park and the Freedom Bridge, a spot where prisoners were exchanged after the cease fire. It now serves as a place to commemorate, and mourn, the lifelong separation that has occurred between family and friends since the peninsula was divided.

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And then we got to the highlight of the day, entry into the Joint Security Area. This was the most intense and controlled aspect of the tour. With multiple passport checks and detailed instructions about what to do and not do, the tension at this point was palpable. The dress code was regulated, pictures could only be taken in certain spots and for a limited amount of time, there was no bending over or using hand gestures (I’ve never felt so worried about unconsciously fixing my hair in my entire life). All of that was worth it for the opportunity to actually put a foot into North Korea. The JSA includes a series of conference rooms literally divided down the middle across the MDL where delegates from the North and South occasionally meet.

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The small concrete line in the ground between the two buildings is the line between the North and the South.

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A North Korean soldier
A North Korean soldier

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Our feet are in North Korea!!!
On the way out of the JSA, we stopped at the Bridge of No Return. We couldn't get out of the bus because THERE COULD BE NORTH KOREAN SOLDIERS HIDING RIGHT THERE AND THEY COULD SHOOT AT US. At least we were allowed to take a quick picture from the bus.
On the way out of the JSA, we stopped at the Bridge of No Return. We couldn’t get out of the bus because (according to our tour guide) THERE COULD BE NORTH KOREAN SOLDIERS HIDING RIGHT THERE AND THEY COULD SHOOT AT US. At least we were allowed to take a quick picture from the bus.

After a very full day, we arrived back in Seoul just as the Christmas lights were coming on in the city.

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Normal people would, at this point, perhaps grab a quick bite to eat and then get some rest. But us? That would just be too predictable, too boring. What do we do? We drink

Coffee #8: We regroup at a coffee shop in the nearby Lotte Department Store and plan how we are going to spend the rest of the evening, although perhaps getting back to a place where we can sleep after midnight was not exactly what we intended.

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The plan was walk along Cheonggyeceon, a scenic stream running through the city, until we got to the Insa-dong area for dinner and perhaps some shopping. We would end the night by taking the cable car to Seoul Tower for an overview of the city at night. Because we had not done enough for one day.

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We found the stream without incident, but ended up wandering a bit trying to get to Insa-dong.
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We eventually found the right area of town and walked around until we found the perfect spot for an extra hearty Korean dinner.

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Enjoying the warm barley tea that was available at the table
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Galbijjim – short ribs, rice cakes, quail eggs, and all kinds of veggies. There are no words to describe how good this was.
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Haemul pajeon – a seafood pancake with large chunks of shrimp, crab, and octopus with strips of onion. This is what food should taste like.
We did some damage
We managed to do some damage to this food
More subway riding to get where we're going
More subway riding to get where we’re going
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Seoul lit up at night was magical

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After dinner, a subway ride, a taxi ride, and waiting in a looooong line for the cable car to the Seoul Tower, it would be tempting to think that we were too tired to enjoy it. But that would be incorrect. The view from the top was breathtaking!

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It was also rather romantic, which made me really miss the boyfriend.

By this point, it was about 10:30. We still had to again wait in line for the return cable car, take the cable car to the bottom, take a taxi to the closest subway station, take a series of subways back to our part of town, and then either walk back to where we were staying or wait for the bus. Incidentally, this seems like a good time to mention the Korea Subway app. It’s easy to use, especially if, like Shannon, you have a wifi egg to access the internet wherever you go. I can highly recommend both the app and the egg. When the Subway app was used in conjunction with the Visit Korea app, it was simple to figure out where I wanted to go and exactly how to get there.

We were tired.
We were tired.
One. More. Subway.
One. More. Subway.

When we got off at our station, we had a difficult decision to make. Take the 10 minute walk back on oh-so-tired feet that had already walked 8 plus miles that day or wait a few minutes in the cold for the bus. Fatigue won out and we decided to wait for the bus. And then we waited and waited and waited. We waited as multiple buses passed, none of them ours. It became a sick game where we would see a bus on the horizon, momentarily allowing our hopes to rise, only to have them dashed moments later when we discovered that it was not, in fact, our bus. After every other bus that stopped at that stop passed by, twice, and thirty minutes had passed, we decided our only option was to walk back. At this point it was midnight. We had been going since 6 am. I had arrived in the country after a 12.5 hour flight only a day before. To say I was tired was an understatement. Somehow, we managed to put one foot in front of the other to make it back. We may have taken turns groaning out loud (I can’t help but think that this would have been easier to handle 10 years ago…), spurring one another on with promises of beds and hot chocolate. In case you’re wondering, this is what I felt like at the end of the day:

Hot chocolate, not coffee!
Hot chocolate, not coffee!

It was a day I will never forget. Despite the fatigue and the sore and blistered feet, I would not change a bit of it. If I was only going to be in South Korea for 72 hours, I might as well make the most of it!

 

South Korea: Fueled by Coffee and Friendship Part I

Some things I have realized about myself in the past couple of years: when I have the opportunity to travel with a friend, my answer is almost always going to be yes (as evidenced here, here, and here). And apparently I am willing to go halfway across the world to do so.

All that to say, I should have known better.

When my friend Shannon was doing her best to cover up her disappointment about being in South Korea alone longer than expected to finalize the adoption of her son, I should have known better than to make a joke about coming to see her. Within a matter of minutes, that “joke” turned into searching for plane tickets, which quickly escalated into purchasing said plane tickets and planning my trip to South Korea. A trip that would occur less than a month later. For a long weekend. You read that correctly. I went to South Korea for a grand total of 72 hours.

The only way to survive the madness? Drink lots of coffee and enjoy the amazingness that is longtime friendship.

Coffee #1: I began my journey early on a Thursday morning with the short flight from Medford to San Francisco.

I drank my first cup of coffee on the quick jaunt from OR to CA. That's the only reason I'm smiling at 5-something in the morning. Oh, and maybe because I am on my way to SOUTH KOREA to see one of my favorite people in the whole world!
I drank my first cup of coffee on the quick jaunt from OR to CA. Coffee is the reason I’m smiling at 5-something in the morning. Oh, and maybe because I am on my way to SOUTH KOREA to see one of my favorite people in the whole world!

Coffee #2: While in San Francisco, I had enough time to eat breakfast, drink more coffee, and walk around the sunny terminal.

Getting to go to the International Terminal? That always makes me happy!
Getting to go to the International Terminal? That always makes me happy!

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After a not-too-long layover, I settled into what would be my very tiny home for the next 12.5 hours.

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The flight was probably the least comfortable international flight I’ve experienced, but the time passed, as it always does.

Leaving the US!
Leaving the US!
As the beverage service began, I was mindful of my goal to actually sleep on the flight. Thus, the vodka instead of another coffee.
As the beverage service began, I was mindful of my goal to actually sleep on the flight. Thus, the vodka instead of another coffee.
A 12 plus hour flight is the perfect time for a Harry Potter marathon.
A 12 plus hour flight is the perfect time for a Harry Potter marathon.
The vegetarian option for lunch was surprisingly delicious Indian cuisine.
The vegetarian option for lunch was surprisingly delicious Indian cuisine.

After a few hours of fitful sleep, it was time to try to wake up again. I wanted to be able to sleep once I got to South Korea, after all. What’s the best way to wake up? Coffee and sunshine.

Coffee #3: I was looking a bit frazzled at this point.

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A peek out the window revealed this snowy view. No idea where this is - Russia, maybe?
A peek out the window revealed this snowy view. No idea where this is – Russia, maybe?
This was breakfast, I think. Unlike lunch, it was not very palatable. I could recognize this food neither by appearance nor taste.
This was breakfast, I think. Unlike lunch, it was not very palatable. I could recognize this food neither by appearance nor taste.

Coffee #4: So I drank another cup of coffee and continued to enjoy the scenery and Harry Potter movies.

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As the flight came to an end, I marveled at the almost magical experience of flying. Despite its drawbacks, which are many, airplanes allow me to leave the US on a cloudy Thursday morning and arrive 17 hours into the future on another continent and to another country around sunset on a Friday evening.

I think this is South Korea!!
I think this is South Korea!!

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And best of all, the magic of flying gives me the opportunity to do this – eat dinner with Shannon on the other side of the world. Because why fly to Tennessee when I can fly to South Korea? Every single uncomfortable hour of restless sleep, the sometimes mediocre food, the vomiting child in the seat next to me, the compression socks I wear on international flights to prevent my feet from swelling. All of it, every bit of it, was worth it for that.

Shannon and her friend, Mr. Song, picked me up from the airport (which has free wifi, allowing you the opportunity to easily communicate with the person picking you up - take note, China) drove me into Seoul.
Shannon and her friend, Mr. Song, picked me up from the airport (which has free wifi, allowing you the opportunity to easily communicate with the person picking you up – take note, China) and drove me into Seoul.
The random restaurant Mr. Song took us to near where we were staying. He ordered for us, in Korean, so I don't actually know what we ate, but it was good!!
Mr. Song brought us to a restaurant near where I was staying with Shannon. He ordered for us, in Korean, so I don’t actually know what we ate, but it was good!!

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In Korea, each meal is accompanied by a number of sides. I think these were some type of kimchi greens, fish cakes, soybean curd, and sprouts. Not knowing exactly what I was eating didn’t stop me from enjoying it!

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Things I know about this – it was wonderfully spicy and had vegetables, tofu, and beef.

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Some experiences can’t quite be put into words. Sometimes impulsive decisions are the best ones to make. And some friends are worth meeting for dinner on the other side of the world.

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Couchsurfing in China: Transportation Talk

Let’s talk transportation. While in China, I had the life-threatening experience opportunity to use many different modes of movement to get from point A to point B. I already wrote a bit about the private car that was hired to pick me up from the airport. I did not, however, share my immediate fear upon the car moving into traffic. It was like there were no rules. As if lanes and traffic signals were mere suggestions.

It was terrifying.

Whether travelling by bus or by taxi, using transportation was terrifying.

This is what it feels like to ride in a vehicle in China
This is what it feels like to ride in a vehicle in China

Because both driver’s licenses and cars are complicated and expensive to purchase, personal cars are a luxury. On the other hand, buses and taxis are inexpensive and e-bikes (short for electronic bicycles) are unregulated. As in you do not need a license to drive one. Just let that sink in for a moment. The point is, the average person uses some combination of walking, bicycles/e-bikes, and public transportation supplemented with taxis to get around. I used each of these while in China, although unfortunately because I took a private car to and from Shanghai, the one way I did not get to travel was by train.

On Sunday, we took a bus to nearby Keqiao for a Sunday meeting with friends.

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Between waiting on the bus, spending time with friends, taking a bus to get to a lunch spot, and taking yet another bus back, the entire day felt like it was spent waiting or riding on a bus.

These two provided plenty of entertainment while waiting for the bus.
These two provided plenty of entertainment while waiting for the bus.

I appreciated how fortunate I am to have a car, which I can use to go places without consulting a bus schedule or standing in the sun waiting (an hour…) for the next bus to arrive. Although there was fresh pineapple while waiting.

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Pineapple makes everything better.

I got to have the standing-room-only-balancing-next-to-someones-armpit-packed-bus experience. Sadly, the bus was so tightly packed that I could not get to my camera in order to document the moment. That was one of the times when I felt like I was truly in China – trying to look out the window at unfamiliar scenery, squished into a crowd of people speaking a language I did not understand, but among who, for once in my life, I did not feel especially short.

In addition to the city buses on Sunday, we also took an intercity bus from Shaoxing to Hangzhou later in the week. It was quite comfortable and I enjoyed the change of scenery from city to country and back to city during the drive.

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Junie looking out the window at the country houses
Junie looking out the window at the country houses

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Seats were individually purchased, so everyone had a place to sit. Seats were ostensibly also assigned, although people seemed to generally sit where they wanted. During the drive, I found it most helpful to look out the window and attempt to ignore moments like this…

This was not a picture from the bus, but is representative of the experience.
This was not a picture from the bus, but is representative of the experience.

And this…

We are not actually in a lane of traffic
We are not actually in a lane of traffic

Diaphragmatic breathing was also useful to manage the rising panic I intermittently felt.

As a side note, China is a cash-based society. So do not expect to be able to use a credit card, at least not outside of a major city. To take any form of transportation required cash. At any given time, I was carrying between 500 and 1000 yuan. Although that was not an especially large amount of money, there was something quite satisfying about pulling out multiple 100 yuan bills. Most taxi rides to the places we went in Shaoxing seemed to cost around 10 yuan (1.50), even with multiple people in the car. If I remember correctly, the individual bus rides within Shaoxing were a few yuan at most and the bus to Hangzhou cost 25 yuan each way.

And then there is the e-bike – the family vehicle of China.

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Obviously.

Bicycles and e-bikes (motorcycles are not allowed within Shaoxing) are common enough to have their own dedicated lanes and own traffic suggestions laws.

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Parking lots looked like this.

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The e-bike was perhaps my favorite way of getting around Shaoxing, although I may have felt differently if the weather had been cooler or rainier during my trip.

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Although fun, there was a bit of an adjustment period during which my bum was rather sore. And wearing a skirt while riding the e-bike definitely took some skills (thanks, Candi, for loaning me the pair of tights). Oh, and my hair generally looked a bit like this.

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Scooters were also a viable option for getting around campus.
Scooters were also a viable option for getting around campus.

And last, but not least, and certainly not least weird – there was time we accepted a ride from a random stranger. Yes, that is correct. One evening when we needed to get back to the bus station in Hangzhou, seemingly every taxi in the city already occupied due to rush hour traffic, a random guy on his way home from work pulled over and offered us a ride. For a price, of course. For several yuan and tense minutes of uncertainty about the future of our organs, five adults and two children piled into a red, 4-door sedan and trusted that we would end up where we wanted to go.

Whether by foot or by taxi, by bus or by e-bike, I loved the opportunity to explore a new place. The occasional terror I experienced while doing so just added to the adventure.