Posts by Country

Saturday, September 23, 2017


Bristol was probably the most unexpectedly interesting part of the whole trip through the South of England. Steve and I decided to go there as our last stop simply because neither of us had ever been. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Bristol is actually a very cool city. Not only is it the birthplace of the famous graffiti artist, Banksy, but it's also loaded with unusual history, unique street food and just a ton of cool things to see. Needless to say, our expectations were blown out of the water.

Speaking of water, that's where our visit began - on the Kennet and Avon Canal. It turns out you can actually take this canal from Bristol to London via Bath. We got on a boat tour that took us around the city using this waterway. Right at the start we saw a funny looking bridge which we later learned is called Pero's Bridge. Opened in 1999, this bridge has two funnel shaped sculptures on the sides that look like Shrek's ears. As it turns out, these "ears" are actually counterweights which provide balance and stability - who knew!

During the tour we also saw lots of colorful buildings, similar to one's I've seen in Scandinavia, and a number of really cool boats ranging from historic sailing ships to modern designer houseboats. After the tour came to an end, we grabbed a snack from one of the many tables selling homemade sweets, and stopped in at the tourism office for some information. From there we began what's referred to as the Curiosities Trail. One of our first stops was St Mary Redcliffe Church - referred to by Queen Elizabeth I as "the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church". She was far less kind to the women of Bristol, saying to the mayor "Good Lord Master Mayor, how plain the women of Bristol be!"

The next landmark was the Temple Church tower which leans at a precarious angle and has done so since the 14th century. The army, clearing WW2 bomb damage wanted to pull the tower down thinking that a bomb had caused the lean. Only the entreaties of citizens saved this famous landmark.

We then passed through Castle Park and arrived at St Nicholas Church - the only public clock in England with a second hand. Behind the church we found a huge variety of tasty street food at the food market. After having something to eat, we stopped in front of the Bristol Exchange where four brass 'Nails' mark another 'curiosity'. Back in the day, merchants used to strike these nails when a deal was completed; hence the expression, "pay on the nail".

Next, we came to a neat little thoroughfare, which dates back to 1669, and followed it up to the top of the Christmas Steps. Near the top of the steps, we came across the Foster's Almshouses. Rebuilt in the present French style in the 19th century, the Foster's Almshouses were originally constructed as charitable housing with spaces for thirteen men and thirteen women. According to Steve, many of these houses are supported by trusts set up centuries ago and, if you belong to that trade or can prove your ancestors belonged to it, you may be able to live in one when you get old.

At this point, we had pretty much reached the end of the list, save for the burial place of the supposed inventor of the blanket. So, we pulled out the other list which directed us to a few 'Banksys' around town - little known fact: Banksy was born in Bristol. I guess that explains why there seems to be so many copycat graffiti artists running around.

At the end of the day, before heading back to London so I could catch my flight to Madrid the following day, we had a cup of tea and some cheesecake from the food stands. Then we sat at the edge of the canal for a bit while a historic sailing ship and some SUP boarders went by.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Jurassic Coast

As I mentioned before, the Jurassic Coast is really aptly named. Most places along the way have that cool Land of the Lost feel that you get when you see something preserved from another era. Some things are from ancient cultures and other things are simply prehistoric. The village we stayed at the night before itself was pretty old school. Most of the homes there have those really cool, and very expensive, thatched roofs.

We exited the town onto a path that lead from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door. The name 'Durdle' comes from the Anglo Saxon 'thirl', meaning a pierced hole or opening, which is exactly what Durdle Door is. The hike there was about 30 minutes or so up a hill and down the other side. It was a perfect morning for taking photos and the temperature was ideal. Steve had been there a month before when it was a bit warmer and had decided to go swimming through Durdle Door to cool off. This, unfortunately, hadn't gone too well. It seems he had swum a little too hard in water that was a little too cold and lost all motivation to swim back - he almost drowned. Luckily, I think he said the current helped a bit so he was able to make it back; a little shook up perhaps but alive nonetheless!

We had a good look around before heading back to the village. From there we drove until we found a little farm shop where we could grab some breakfast. Steve got the last breakfast roll so I ended up having a Scotch egg - a hard-boiled quail's egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in bread crumbs and baked, or possibly deep-fried. Scotch eggs are served cold, but I couldn't help thinking that it would have been better warm. Still, not bad.

Our next stop was West Bay. This was a really cool place; the cliffs definitely had some serious stratification going on - reminded me a lot of something by Antonio Gaudí in Park Güell in Barcelona. This makes a lot of sense actually when you consider that his work is largely inspired by nature. As we walked along the cliffs, we also found lots of large broken-off chunks with tons of fossils visible on the surfaces. I even found a large coprolite... also known as fossilized dino poo.

We continued on from there to our quirky hostel in Moretonhampstead on the north-eastern edge of Dartmoor. The owner there was a funny cat lady who clearly wasn't too concerned about running a business. Not only did she allow her animals to roam around in the guest quarters but, the next morning, she was nowhere to be found. Lucky for her we had every intention of paying and would be mailing her the money later. I can imagine that some guests are occasionally a little less forthcoming though.

Covering an area of 368 square miles (954 sq km), Dartmoor contains the largest area of open country in the south of England. As one of several high moors in the area, including Exmoor and Bodminmoor, Dartmoor is known for its tors - hills topped with outcrops of bedrock.  As we passed through, we saw lots of these tors as well as some cool looking red cows. At one point we decided to stop and climb one of the hills in order to visit the tors. I was surprised at how much colder it was up in the moors. The freezing wind blasting us with an icy mist made it seem as if we had stumbled into a whole other climate. The whole hike was probably about 30-45 minutes, including our visit to the bronze age settlements on the adjacent hill, but in my memory it easily could have been twice that. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating environment littered with relics from prehistoric societies dating as far back as the Neolithic.

Later on I had a pretty amazing British scone with fresh cream spread. Then, that evening, we had chicken pie with chips at a local pub. This was also really good. Though, that's unfortunately more than either of us could say for the local cider... yuck!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The English Countryside

The English countryside has really earned its reputation. I never really gave it much thought even when I was there back in 2010... and, unfortunately, you can really tell that by my lack of exposition. Well, I'm happy to say that my most recent visit has given me more appreciation for the this part of the world. I think it definitely helps when you have a good local friend to share the experience with. Also, as Steve once suggested, being more descriptive definitely makes a big difference as well.

I arrived at Gatwick, a cheaper airport outside of London, on Thursday, September 21st. Steve was there waiting with a rental car ready to start our journey. We didn't waste any time getting to our first stop - Beachy Head.

Beachy Head is located at the easternmost end of the South Downs in the South of England. It's a lot like the White Cliffs of Dover but, in my opinion, way better. This is because it's less touristy and, as Steve explained, you actually get to see more of the cliffs! I suppose for some the only downside of it being less touristy is that perhaps it has less security. Apparently, it's been a pretty popular spot for driving one's car off the edge. I don't know if that's still the case today but still it seems strange that they haven't done anything about it.

The cliffs themselves are really interesting as they're made of chalk, and the chalk itself comes from seashells. The story goes that the chalk was formed 65 million years ago (Cretaceous Period) when dinosaurs roamed the land. Although, I guess the actual dinosaur fossils themselves are a bit older as this stop is just 140 miles shy of the beginning of what they call the Jurassic Coast (80-130 mya). But I digress.

A few miles down from Beachy Head is a place called Birling Gap. Here we were able to take a large metal staircase down to the pebbly beach below the cliffs. The pebbles themselves are notable as they change consistently as you get further down the coast. In fact, thanks to this consistency, sailors of old were able to figure out their geographic location simply by looking at the pebbles on the beach! Steve and I stopped here for a pot of proper English tea and a cake. Maybe I was just hungry, but I thought it was all pretty exceptional.

Our next stop along the way was about 25 miles away, in Brighton. There, we took a walk down to the pier to visit with my friend Robert who I met back in 2010 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and again in Australia two years later.

Robert joined us for the next leg of our journey as we stopped to see Arundel castle. We didn't really manage to get all that close to the castle, but we did have a little walk around the town which was nice.

A little further down the way, we dropped Robert off so he could catch a bus back to Brighton. We then continued to Poole in order to catch the ferry there. The ferry was actually a bit different than any I'd ever seen before - this one was pulled across by a massive chain! It seems the tides are a bit strong for controlling the boat manually and, because it's such a short distance, the chain's weight doesn't create much of a problem. Once on the other side, we drove through Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve to a small village called Swanage - famous for it's fish 'n' chips.

After enjoying our generous portions of the coastal delicacy, we made our way to Corfe Castle. Two things that really stood out there were, of course, the castle up on the hill over the village with its seemingly precarious Jenga-style build, and the ubiquitous stone slate roofing on all the buildings. This stone slate roofing is actually rather unique as it requires traditional materials and techniques to maintain.

We walked around this beautiful village (I highly recommend it) for a bit before finally calling it a day. And what an amazing day it had been! We definitely didn't expect the weather to cooperate so well and, as I mentioned at the start, the quality of this experience was well beyond what I had ever hoped for. A few miles down the road, we pulled up to our youth hostel in Lulworth - the first stop on our next day's journey down the aforementioned Jurassic Coast.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Auf Wiedersehen

The last month before my big move to Europe was pretty nice. I spent a lot of time with friends and family, beefed up my bank account a bit more, and caught the eclipse. I actually made quite a bit of money helping my friend Jason sell eclipse glasses - the ones that make eclipse viewing safe. I then wore one pair and put another on my camera so I could get some footage... this didn't really work very well though. Still, the shadows on the streets looked pretty interesting, so I took some photos of that.

Another fun experience was going to Northwest Trek with my mom for some zip-lining. We had been talking about it for probably over a year so it was about time. My friends Austen and LeAnn got us a discount because they worked there. It was still like $30 each for probably 30 minutes once you're actually allowed up on the course, but I'd say it's worth it to do it at least once. It was also just a good excuse to go on a nice motorcycle ride - yes, my mom also rides.

In the last couple weeks we went out to eat a couple times and even made it over to the Puyallup fair. I spilled the jam from my elephant ear all over my legs but, otherwise, it was a fun day.

That's pretty much it! I spent probably a whole day digitizing a documents, as I often do before a big trip, because I hate traveling with paper stuff - I actually don't like having paper anything if I can help it. On Tuesday, September 19th, I did my final big packing ceremony. Then, the next day, I boarded my eight-hour direct flight to London that I had found a few months prior for only $200. The next journey, a year in the making, had finally begun.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Emigration Training

As I mentioned in my San Diego post, my trip to California was mainly for the purpose of preparing for my future in Germany. The emigration trainings, like this one which followed the Semiannual Summer Training, are not common. In fact, the last one was all the way back in 2008. Nevertheless, these emigration trainings, as with regular trainings, serve both practical and spiritual purposes. You learn about the culture of the target land as well as some relevant spiritual principles which provide guidance for day-to-day living. For example, we should avoid causing problems in society, as well as within the church, by being conscious of how we affect those around us both socially and spiritually. On the other hand, we shouldn't become introspective, as that also has negative side effects with regard to both our outward behavior and inward growth.

During the training we actually learned a lot regarding this matter of being balanced, or "sifted", by outward and inward factors. This is also really practical when you consider that German culture is so unexpectedly different from North American culture. Adapting to this change requires that you be open to, for example, seeing the flaws in your own culture or, at least, the benefits of another. German history plays a considerable role in the current culture. Before Germany became "Germany" it was a divided land of so-called "Dutchies". These different groups fought quite a bit right up till the Prussian invasion, which resulted in the implementation of ordnung or "order" as Germany officially became a unified country in 1871. Naturally, they now hold very strongly to the principles of law and order - more so than perhaps we are used to in North America. This strict adherence to the status quo can be seen in many aspects of German culture. From the way they plan their futures (and they do love to have a plan!) to the way they behave at a crosswalk. If there's a red man, or "Ampelmännchen", and someone crosses anyway, one should be prepared for some highly judgmental stares as well as possible legal ramifications.

This matter of adapting to the German way was touched many times during the training. After all, even reasonable opinions are still just opinions. It's important that we don't embrace our peculiarities, especially at the expense of our assimilation into the local society. And, while there is always a need for boldness in this kind of move (Matt 28), it was explained that we shouldn't be afraid to "underfunction". For example, one should say "we struggled with this also" as opposed to "we do things differently where I'm from."

Of course, it almost goes without saying that we should avoid imposing our own culture on another. Nevertheless, this has been a problem all throughout human history. Even when we have good intentions, we often find that our zeal/excitement causes us to overstep our bounds and cause problems. On the other hand, overthinking can lead to "analysis paralysis". So, again, we see that "sifting" effect coming into play as we learn to respond appropriately to our circumstances and, more importantly, allow ourselves to be lead by the Spirit.

This is obviously another aspect of emigration that the training focused on. We can imitate holiness and be a problem all the same, but life is something that grows, adapts to, and overcomes all situations - good or bad. In fact, our natural capacity in our mind is a huge liability. We can be really gifted even in so many ways, and yet have no ability to love. I really appreciated this statement that "the one accord is the master key to every blessing in new testament". If we have life then we have love and, if we have love, then we will be merciful with others and righteous with ourselves. This is one way in which the Spirit leads us in our day-to-day life - we stop trying to "improve" other people. That's not to say that we should be quiet, as that would just lead back to the imitation of holiness but, rather, we should be listening, and waiting for the leading in our spirit which empowers us to do all things (Phil 4:13). The biggest question in this whole training, which has everything to do with this "leading", is "can I enjoy and express the Lord when I get there."

This question really touches on our purpose of being in Germany in the first place - to be a testimony for God. Not that we go there in a movement (I also teach English overseas, so I'd be there anyway), but not that we go there just for ourselves either. One of the best things about working overseas for me has always been that it helps to keep me from becoming complacent. When we put ourselves in a new environment, it stimulates us and causes us to grow. This scenario may seem like it just benefits the individual but, as a result of this daily renewing experience, we're able to share more of our enjoyment with others. It's actually this flowing out that allows us to receive even more (Eph 3:2).

Overall, the training was not easy. Interestingly, it wasn't even the discipline that made it so difficult. In fact, the main challenge in the emigration training, for me at least, was the self examination. It's really hard not to be introspective about our motives, concepts, etc. when the truth is often so contradictory to our nature, i.e., we don't always see things the way they really are. One problem, for example, is the feeling to argue with authority - I hate being told what to do. I think we all do to some extent. Thankfully, overcoming this tendency doesn't require that we "do" anything but, rather, that we just be open. Though we may fail the examination after 3.5 years of training (as was basically the case with the apostles in the book of Acts), we are assured that all things will work together for good if we love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28-29). This is the meaning of consecration, and it doesn't actually have anything to do with what we are able to do. We shouldn't even be too worried about making mistakes (Phil 4:6) because, believe it or not, even our mistakes can lead to good if we are those who care for God's purpose.

Overall, the training wasn't so hard outwardly - though I'm told it was actually more strict than the long-term training. It started on Wednesday, July 12th and lasted for just three and a half weeks. Hospitality was provided along with a buffet three times a day, so we wanted for nothing. I'm really glad I went - I think the Lord really blessed our time there. I was also able to get back just in time to catch my dad's birthday.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

LA Reunion

Another benefit of being in California is that a lot of my family lives there. In fact, it was pretty much just my parents who decided to join the flood of Californians moving up to Washington - a lot of the others stayed put. On my dad's side, a lot of my family comes from the Huntington Beach area. And, as it just so happens, Anaheim, the location of the training I went down for, is just next door to Huntington Beach. So, I took a couple days during the first weekend for a little family reunion.

On Monday, the 3rd of July, I met up with my friend Chas and another trainee, Steve, for our drive up to Anaheim. It was there that we joined the Semiannual Summer Training, which preceded the emigration training for Germany that I mentioned in my last post about San Diego. This one-week training is done twice a year in order to encourage, enlighten and build us up together while providing us with the latest words of the ministry. Many other trainings and conferences are also held for this purpose, but these two are quite large as believers come together from all over the world in order to be trained both practically and spiritually. Needless to say, the world is full of darkness - it doesn't take a spiritual giant to see that! So, these trainings are provided as a way to shed a little light on how one can see, express and cooperate with God's plan. This plan is honestly not at all complicated in itself but, like many universal truths that encompass our existence, it's hard to accept, apply and trust in it without the proper context and experience. Hence, the training.

On Sunday, after the church meeting, I met with some of the Spanish speaking ones for lunch before heading over to Huntington Beach to visit some family. I took the opportunity to share with them a bit of what I had enjoyed during the training. Also, that evening, my uncle Mike cooked up a really nice meal - he's got a few skills in the kitchen this guy! The next day we worked together on the pool deck (see the first photo up top), had some grilled veggies and bratwursts, and went to Disneyland.

One of the rides, the original Pirates of the Caribbean, was really interesting because you could see where the movies got a lot of their inspiration. We also waited in line for the Indiana Jones ride or, as my uncle calls it, Indiana Jones and the Broken Down Ride... This, unfortunately, proved to be quite the prediction as, after we waited in line for probably half an hour, the ride actually broke down. Of course, I think the best ride was Stars Wars - must have been, seeing as the line was probably over an hour long! This was actually, according to my uncle, not such long wait for this ride when you consider its popularity. He would know too because he and my aunt go there all the time. Not only do they live around the corner, but they have discounted season passes thanks to my cousin Ryan, their son, who works there. He's also the reason why we were all able to get in for free during my visit.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

San Diego

In the final couple months before heading off to Germany, I decided to join a training that coincidentally happens to be about Germany - more on that later. This training took place in Anaheim, so I had to get to California. LA was looking a bit pricey, but then I had the thought to visit another city on the way. My friend Loi, who lives in San Diego, is always happy to have visitors and, as it turned out, the flight there was quite a bit cheaper. My other friend Chas, who lives in Vietnam but, unlike Loi, is not Vietnamese but actually comes from San Diego; he was also going to San Diego for the same reason as me - to go to the training in Anaheim. So, amazingly, I ended up with a cheap flight, a few days catching up with my former colleague Loi, and a ride up to Anaheim with my friend Chas who I met in Vietnam. I guess it was just meant to be!

On Wednesday, the 28th of June, I flew to San Diego where I had a couple hours layover. At 9:30 I was supposed to fly from there to San Diego, but I was flying United so... you might have guessed it - they overbooked. They then offered me a voucher for giving up my seat (a voucher that I think they know most people will never get the around to using). In the end, my ETA to Loi's place ended up moving from around 11:30 to about one o'clock in the morning. Thankfully, he didn't have a problem with that.

The following morning, since Loi was still not due back from work till later that evening, I did a little exploring. I started by walking around the neighborhood, then took a bus downtown. After loading a public transport card, I took a walk over to Seaport Village. It was a really nice day (of course, I guess that's standard for San Diego) so the waterfront was a good first stop. The little kitschy souvenir shops were nice to look at as well. I had soon seen enough of that though, so I made my way over to the historic Gaslamp Quarter followed by Little Italy.

The Gaslamp Quarter was cool (a lot of Victorian Era buildings) but Little Italy was far more my style. Not only does Little Italy have more to see but, in my opinion, it's more practical. I found more little hole-in-the-wall shops with items that suited my interests a bit better, such as unique foods and cultural appropriations. I made sure to stock up on some snacks before getting on the train from there to my next destination - the Mexican border. I only had time for one more activity, so I decided to visit the San Ysidro outlets there.

The outlet mall definitely had plenty of shops. I had a good kebab at a food court and even found churros and horchata. I also enjoyed using my Spanish to make friends with people along the way. On the other hand, I wasn't particularly impressed with the deals as most of the shops only had pricey designer goods. In any case, not a bad experience.

The next day I went with Loi and his roommate to get breakfast at Ikea for just $2 each - a crazy good deal for such a nice breakfast. We then went to the county fair, went on a ride, got some junk food, and watched the truck rally.

For the last day that we had planned, we used up the last of my groupons (I had bought them before coming to visit) to go stand-up paddle boarding (SUP).

A few hours later, we went for pizza at Venice pizza house before stopping over at Coronado for a bonfire that I had found out about on Meetup. The next morning it was time to head up to Anaheim. Chas and I weren't sure about our plan so I went to the bus station to find out if I could take a bus. Fortunately, I wasn't able to get the bus I wanted, so back to plan A. Loi and I grabbed some fish tacos, stopped at a butcher shop for some local jerky, and went over to Balboa Park to see what was going on there.

Balboa is pretty nice, and we even could have gone to the zoo with a special locals pass that Loi had but, after a short walk around, we decided to head back and get some Ramen instead.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Without a Raft

Ever since I first went rafting on the Puyallup with Chu Sum back in November, I've considered it as the hidden gem in my home town. I say "hidden" because I don't know anybody who's actually spent any time there. In fact, after all my years living in Puyallup, I only recently had the idea to go have a look. As it turns out, the Puyallup river has several sections where one can take on rapids of varying difficulty. With Chu Sum we had taken on the lower level which had only a few easy rapids, and not so many obstacles. With Austen, on the other hand, we didn't have that choice. Unfortunately, the section of the river that I was familiar with was not running at a safe level, so we had to go to a different section where the difficulty was a bit higher. Austen and I didn't see any reason why a little extra challenge would be a problem, so we went for it.

On Thursday, June 22nd, we met for lunch down by Graham before parking our cars - one at the planned exit point and one at launch point. We then pulled out my rafts. I had bought an extra one so that friends could come rafting without us having to all cram into one boat. I had found a good deal on one on the Walmart website for just 15 bucks. As we inflated the rafts, the reason for the low price became clear... The new raft was not only small but, as we would later discover, quite thin. Still, the level we were rafting was apparently not that much different than the one I had done before, so we had no reason to expect any problems. It also didn't hurt that we were both trained lifeguards with considerable swimming experience.

It started out really well. We were both cruising for probably an hour without any problems whatsoever. We hit a few rapids, and had to navigate around a couple of funny obstacles, but overall it was a beautiful day to be on the river. I had taken the older raft because I was taller and Austen had volunteered to take the smaller, newer one. This, of course, didn't end well for him. At one point, he got hung up on a branch which, after he grabbed onto my raft, resulted in us both getting pulled under the rapids. He couldn't quite get himself up far enough to free the rope so, as I recall, I ended up having to pull us both up so that we could get the rope loose. This was perhaps a bit of a close call, but we managed to get free and continue our journey down the river.

At another point, there was a tree blocking about half of the river. We both noticed it a bit late and weren't able to paddle around it in time. Austen was a bit further in where it was harder to get out and around. This was also the place with the most pointy parts... After I hit, we were both laughing, as he was presumably about to get stuck on the log as well, but then it happened... he disappeared. It actually took me a moment to realize that he was gone. It had looked like his raft was just folding a bit but then, suddenly, he went under.

It took a good five seconds or so, but Austen finally resurfaced about four feet down on the fallen tree. Holding on for dear life, he waited while I pulled myself over to him so that he could climb into my boat. I'm not sure if the life jacket was more helpful or detrimental for him - I think it was probably pulling him more up against the tree than out from under it. In any case, I was thankful that we were prepared enough to deal with the situation. While taking a short break, we confirmed that Austen was a little scratched up but, otherwise, none the worse for wear. We then continued down the river for the next few hours without further consequence.

Despite his brief moment of uncertainty, Austen was his usual lively self. At the end of our journey, we came to an old pipe bridge. After loading up the rafts, we climbed up on the bridge and had one last look over the river. All in all, it had been a pretty cool experience. Next time I'll just be a little more careful in selecting my equipment!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Renter Games

After returning from my last trip, I went back to working nights at the college, and days at my neighbors'. I spent time with friends and family, worked on my property, taught another friend how to ride the motorbike... and worked some more. I was quite busy, so the last thing I wanted was drama from my renter(s).

On Monday, June 5th, I went over to my dad's. Over the next couple of days I made my usual effort to clean up around my property - did some weeding, painting, caulking, and put in a new screen so that my renters could let fresh air in... Four days later, the emails began.

It had been a rough year with the rental. They had only paid on time once or twice, and the other payments were usually in the neighborhood of 2-3 weeks late. I was hoping this was just part of their flaky behavior that I had come to expect but, unfortunately, it was a prelude to what my mom likes to call The Renter Games. I hadn't expected that I could be so fortunate (sarcasm) but, as it turned out, I had myself some of those professional renters - the ones that like to take advantage of the renter-friendly laws in Washington State.

Things escalated pretty fast. First, they complained that I wasn't doing enough for them. Then they started messing with the neighbors - letting their dog poo on the neighbors' lawns, making huge garbage fires, and just being antisocial in general. Finally, I guess they were feeling pretty bold, because they started making excuses for not having paid the rent... by claiming that it wasn't their fault. Of course, I say "they" because my renter's boyfriend had moved in (a while back to be fair) and was now looking to take control of the situation. They decided that my attempts at communicating with the woman needed to stop - not that I had been having much luck with that in the first place. So, the boyfriend requested that I communicate only with him. I figured, "why not?"

Well, he was definitely better at responding to my messages. The only problem was that he responded with claims of being abused by me. I made an improvement to MY shed; he complained that it wasn't good enough. I asked for rent to be deposited; he complained that going into banks made his girlfriend nervous. I asked them to pay or quit; he threatened to drag it out for months without paying (technically possible if I wasn't willing to hire an expensive attorney). Finally, a week into it, I went to drop off the eviction notice. While I was there they put on a big show with firemen and police while filming and yelling that nothing there belonged to me. I gave them until the 30th. Surprisingly, they agreed to leave... on the 30th... at 11:59pm. This was technically a big win for me. If they had fought harder it would cost me more than just a months rent.

Nevertheless, we kept at it. After they removed their stuff from my shed, we spent a day cleaning up their remaining garbage, cigarette butts, residue, etc., and then re-keyed the shed. At this point, they thought it would be fun to leave their semi-truck on my property so that my new renter couldn't move on. So, we sent an email to the truck company saying that it was abandoned on my land - the truck was gone the next morning. Finally, the renters from hell had gone off to torture some other poor landowner. I hope he's more prepared than I was.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Korea Revisited

I'm pretty sure all flights between China and the States come with the option to stop in Korea. I like this very much because I have a lot of friends there. On Tuesday, the 23rd of May, I said goodbye to Chu Sum and his family again and started my journey. After stopping for one of my favorite snacks in Hong Kong (egg waffle), I took the bus to the airport to catch my flight to Seoul.

When I arrived I was greeted in the same way as my last visit - by two brothers from the church. Again they brought me to Ansan but, this time, we only had one day. It was a quiet evening as I recall, but this was a good opportunity to rest. The next day we spent the whole day in fellowship. We enjoyed a prayer meeting and went to a local university to join a Bible study group. There we had a traditional Korean lunch, went for smoothies and, finally, made our way to the bus station. From there I caught a bus to the airport followed by my return flight to the States.

As before, I was surprised at how much we were able to do during such a short visit. Still, even after my second visit, I can't help feeling like I haven't given Korea enough of my time. I've always wondered what would have happened if I hadn't gone to Spain after my year teaching in Hong Kong. Korea had been the plan until I got put off by the visa paperwork... which actually ended up being exactly the same for Spain! Perhaps someday the opportunity will again present itself and I'll end up teaching there for a while.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Da Nang

For the days following the wedding, Ayden and Carrie had a lot planned. On Sunday, the 21st of May, we all went to Ba Na Hills to start the first day of sightseeing and activities. Of course, I couldn't start the day without another visit to Anthony's hotel for the breakfast buffet.

We were pretty short on time after eating, and we had been warned that late-comers would be left behind, so I rushed down with Anthony to catch our GrabTaxi. Unfortunately, Anothony... got distracted. We both ended up making it in the end, seeing as the bus driver was willing to wait a bit, but Anthony wasn't happy about having to catch another taxi. We then spent a full day wandering around in the international sensation that is Ba Na Hills. It really did seem like we had left Vietnam behind as almost all of the workers there were tall westerners. In fact, this one guy dressed as a king was probably well over seven feet!

A good portion of the time was spent on the cable cars going up and down this mountain. One might assume that they just like throwing money around but, in such a humid country, I suppose I can see the value in putting your resort up above the clouds on a cool mountaintop.

They definitely spent some money putting this place together though. We saw a lot of hired dancers and costumed performers throughout the day as we walked around taking in the various attractions. The European style buildings, large cultural monuments, and various activities at the sports hall were all clearly meant to give the impression that they had spared no expense.

The main attraction was the toboggan. We probably waited 45 minutes to go on that ride - it was worth it though. I kind of felt like it made up for missing the one at the Great Wall of China.

Later that evening, back in Da Nang, we came together for a pool party at Ayden and Carrie's villa. We had some good local food, shot some pool and, of course, swam in the pool. We also had breakfast there the next morning before heading off to see Lady Buddha.

I had to catch a flight later that evening, so I followed the bus all day on my rental scooter. This was mostly okay except for the ride along the beach at which point I pretty much got sandblasted. We then went to Marble Mountain for a visit to the caves there.

I also wanted to take an elevator to the top but, lo and behold - another broken ATM. This proved to be a pretty big concern as I didn't have money for lunch, and we were running out of time. Thankfully, one the of the waitresses at the restaurant we went to was willing to hop on my bike with me in order to help navigate to an ATM that worked!

Lunch was another interesting meal consisting of some local and international elements if I remember correctly. When we were done eating, most of us had to take off, so we said some quick goodbyes, and I hopped on the scooter for one last ride. On the way back to my hotel I had to make one stop though... I had left my shoes at Anthony's hotel. Most people who know him were unsure I would be able to get my shoes back but, thankfully, with a little prodding from hotel reception, I was able to get him to open up. Overall, an awkward encounter to be sure, but I got my shoes!

Finally, I picked up the rest of my gear and caught a GrabTaxi to the airport. There I managed to get in one last visit with the brothers that I had met with a few days earlier.

As I reached my gate I saw another familiar face - Adam from the wedding. Back in Hong Kong, he introduced me to a little travel indulgence to which I hadn't previously given any thought. It turns out that airport lounges are more than just a quite place to relax. In fact, some of them are right up there with holiday resorts! Adam had a +1 option on the lounge benefits of his credit card, so he got me in for the free shower and buffet. Now, these two things may not sound like a holiday resort experience but, when you consider the contrast of a busy day of travel vs a relaxing shower and a good meal in a comfortable lounge, the feeling is right up there. If you've got the money, or your credit card has this benefit, I'd highly recommend giving yourself enough time to take advantage!