If you’d asked me about our Cambodia trip pre-arrival, I would’ve said this particular vacation was my husband’s baby. And I was okay with that. After all, he was very gracious about my dragging him back to Thailand for a second, more-beach-centric trip. So it seemed only fair to make getting to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat a priority.
Pretty quickly into our trip, however, I grasped why everyone we knew who’d traveled to Cambodia gave it such glowing reviews. “Kingdom of Wonders” is a lofty title for any locale to hold, but Cambodia manages to live up to its self-hype.
Monday was Pack Out Day (cue Jaws dun-uh-dun-uh music), the day our entire household got disassembled and dissected, all our worldly goods boxed up and labeled for their journey to our South American onward assignment.
It’s hard for me to express just how deeply I dislike packing out. Think the scene from Julie & Julia where Julia is packaging up a cookbook and mourning her impending departure from Paris…. Then graft in a bit of Oscar the Grouch. And there you have it–me on Pack Out Day. Continue reading “The Pack Out Paradigm”→
Usually, I’m fairly responsible about my time management; I make sensible decisions, putting work and other obligations first. But this past Thursday night, I found myself still up at 2 AM–even with the start of my workday at the Consulate looming a mere 6 hours away–because I couldn’t tear myself away from a casual ladies’ night that brought together women from the Consulate ( a shoutout to our awesome hostess, if you’re reading!). I drank 3+ glasses of wine (amazing, since I’m usually a 1-glass-and-done kind of girl) and laughed until I had tears in my eyes… laughed harder than I have in months.
In the back of my mind, sensible Lauren was reminding me that I had to get home, that I still needed to shower and send off a bit of correspondence, that I had work in the morning. But I was having a desperately hard time prying myself away from the company. The women at the Consulate–Foreign Service officers and diplomatic spouses alike–come from incredibly diverse perspectives, experiences, and places. Occasionally, these differences cause conflict. But 95% of the time, I’m amazed by how lively, accepting, and kind our community is. Sitting there at 12:30 in the morning, trying not to wet my pants from giggling, I had two simultaneous thoughts running in the back of my mind:
“I can’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know these women, against all odds, despite the long distances we’ve had to travel to be here.”
“I can’t believe I have to say goodbye in two and a half months.”
Given that Harbin, China was once a hub for Trans-Siberian Railway construction, it’s unsurprising that an ice festival is the town’s current claim to fame. How poetic that even today, such a locale remains infamous for its (literally) freezing temperatures.
Truly, Harbin’s ice festival is stunning–particularly its crowing jewel, Harbin’s Ice and Snow World. I feel blessed to have made it there, at least once in my lifetime.
But I’ll be honest–magical as the Snow World was, there are some drawbacks to wandering around in -20°F weather (that’s actual temperature–none of this “feels like” nonsense!) after the sun goes down. Namely, being brutally, numbingly cold. The day after our icy adventure, our group decided to take a break and head to the (only slightly) warmer Siberian Tiger Park.
In addition to introducing the upcoming year, Chinese New Year also marks the official start of spring according to China’s lunar calendar.
This year, I owe the lunar calendar a big commendation, as it pegged spring’s arrival perfectly. Just two weeks ago, temperatures here were in the 40s and 50s. Following on the heels of February 8th’s New Year celebration, the cherry blossoms are blooming and I’m shedding my jacket, happily welcoming 75°F days.
But the sunny days have made me nostalgic, bringing to a close our last winter to be spent in China. With the days counting down to the end of our assignment, I’m fondly remembering adventures we’ve taken, even as I wonder how well we’ve availed ourselves of our time here.
According to China’s late Chairman Mao, “Bù dào cháng chéng fēi hǎo hàn.”
Or, in our own tongue:
“He who has not been to the Great Wall is not a true man.”
This sentiment is one of a few about which Mr. Mao and I disagree. But I will give the man this: The Great Wall (aka: cháng chéng) truly is one of China’s must-see sites.
Believe it or not, this was actually a point of debate a few months back. As I worked with my parents to plan their 10-day trip to visit my husband and me in China, it became quickly apparent that we wouldn’t be able to pay homage to all China’s premier tourist locales. Since both my dad and I are surfers, we seriously considered jettisoning Beijing in favor of Hainan Island, the Hawaii of China:
As autumn deepens in Sichuan, the fall weather combines with increasing pollution to make blue-sky days seem a treasure of the past. I’m left reminded of the profound difference a glimpse of pretty sky can make.
As humans, we have an amazing talent for artificially modifying our surroundings. If our weather’s too hot, we craft machines to infuse our homes with a cool breeze. When we want to work beyond the hours facilitated by the sun, we invent electricity-powered lighting. Even for non-potable water, we have a solution: buy a distiller.
Don’t get me wrong: I am a huge fan of such creature comforts. My air purifiers are all set on high. Already I’m fantasizing about my favorite winter luxury–our apartment’s in-floor heating.