Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What's worse than Belgrade? Being sick abroad!

First the good news.  We survived Belgrade.  We weren't certain of this after our first look around as we rode into the city.  It was decaying.  Destroyed.  Dilapidated.  Debilitated.  It was even descriptors that don't begin with D.

Seriously, this place looked like every movie ever where they show a post apocalyptic future.  The train station had lovely squat toilets and all (which I had to use) (with diarrhea) (try not to think about that).

Our hostel actually wasn't bad.  It was in a less, let's say worn, part of town.  And in the center, they even had some new, gleaming buildings and a nice pedestrian walk where it seemed every single young person in the city gathered at night.  I've never seen a group of young people so obviously dedicated to their appearances.  There were more fake tans, short shorts, wife beaters and steroid users there than on Jersey Shore.

We arrived fairly late and were going to leave early the next morning but we decided to stay for the next day and catch a private mini-bus to Budapest that night (we would regret our choice of transportation).

Our time in Belgrade was interesting.  The best site was the Tesla Museum. I'd never had 50000 volts pass through me before. You know it's a good museum when they ask anyone with a pacemaker to leave so that they won't die. The other sites were blah but the people were friendly and of course everything was extremely cheap.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, if nothing else as a contrast to many of the other places we're visiting.

Unfortunately, getting out turned out to be a headache.  The private bus that picked us up was an hour late, then wasted another hour making us change vans before we finally left.  We were supposed to arrive in Budapest around 2am.  We got there are 5:30am exhausted, frustrated and angry.  (note: we were angry because even though we were already very late, our driver stopped for 2 20 minute smoke breaks.  This did not sit well with the non-smoking passengers)

In any case, we arrived at sunrise, checked in and collapsed.  Got up around 1pm and yet we were ready to sleep by 11pm that evening.  We did a little walking around on this short day but there wasn't time for too much.  The next morning was when the trouble started.

I woke up with my stomach feeling off and it got worse from there.  I'll spare you the details but basically, I was in bed for most of that day and the next 2 days also.  Vicky was an angel, getting food and medicine for me and just being there to comfort me.  She didn't even really go sightseeing until I was able to move around on my own.

Fortunately I seem to be coming out of that.  My full strength isn't back but maybe after another good nights sleep it will be.  And it would certainly be good timing if it was, since tomorrow we head for Vienna.  I can't wait!

As a final note, please pray that Vicky and I don't get sick again on this trip.  It was miserable being sick abroad in a hotel and I don't want either of us to repeat it.  So your prayers would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Istanbul - Great food, impressive sights and aggressive shop owner

The Blue Mosque

And after 10 hours of desperately needed sleep, we awoke in Istanbul. Our first priority was food. And how do you pick a good place to eat in a city you've never visited? You follow the locals!

We did and it led to a cheap and great lunch. We followed that with a visit to a 150 year old Turkish dessert shop. There we enjoyed fantastic Turkish delight, baklava and Turkish coffee for Vicky. It was not our only visit.

The dessert cafe

Walnut Baklava

We then wondered through crowded streets until we reached the Gunhale Park. This place was cool, shady, relaxing and wonderful. We spent a long time enjoying it and people watching. And of course commenting on everything (you call that a burka? I can still see an eyebrow!)

Sunset found us between the nearby Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (or Blue Mosque). Both were stunning, especially then. When you factor in that Hagia Sophia (or Ayasofya) was built around the year 550AD, it becomes even more impressive.

Hagia Sophia was originally a church but was converted to a mosque when the Muslims invaded. After they fled, it became a museum.

The next day we actually went inside the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. It was pretty but disappointing because so much stuff was hanging from the ceiling that the walls and the roof were heavily obscured.

After that we headed to Taksim Square and decided to spend half a hour hiking uphill in the hot sun instead of taking the 3 minute tram up because apparently we hate ourselves. The square itself was pretty boring but at least we figured out where to catch the bus to the airport.

A random, cool Egyptian obelisk.  I have no idea why it's in Istanbul though 

The rest of the day held more good cheap food, of course more dessert and another park visit before Vicky's stomach started acting dumb again. Thankfully some prayer and an early bedtime left her feeling much better the next morning.

The next morning we stopped by the Grand Bazaar before leaving. It was a shoppers dream, so Vicky and I left after 15 minutes. Now we're winging our way towards Belgrade (which sounds like the beginning to a bad horror movie or Taken 6). More updates coming soon.

The Grand Bazaar

Best sales lines Turkish shop owners actually said to us.
1) "Excuse me. How can I get your money?"
2) (after eating a free sample) "Ah, now you are poisoned. I will give you the antidote after you buy something."

Monday, August 19, 2013

I blame China

I blame China. I wrote a solid, detailed update but unfortunately I wrote it in China. Since China hates Google (look it up. They really do) the update didn't save and has been lost forever. And since I don't feel like trying to rewrite it on a tablet, you get the cliff's notes version (which is probably the one you wanted anyway).

We left Jeju without any major problems but with plenty of stress. Unfortunately right after arriving in Seoul, Vicky picked up a stomach bug and spent most of our 2.5 days recovering from it. Fortunately, we did find time to eat dinner with an old traveling buddy of mine at a Brazilian steakhouse. We also met our two best friends from Jeju for dinner at Subway since they also happened to be in Seoul. It was an excellent goodbye to Korea.

The very VERY long series of boring flights the next day was only broken up by meeting an Aussie astrophysicist who has run with the bulls in Spain, visited Oktoberfest in Munich and currently lives in China. When you factor in his impressive beard, he might be the real-life most interesting man in the world.
And around 28 hours after we left Seoul, we arrived in Istanbul at 1am and promptly fell asleep. To be continued (maybe even with pictures of i can find a computer)

Requisite funny story.
On our flight from China to Istanbul, this woman who was barely 5ft tall sat in the seat in front of me. Several times during the flight she tried to recline her seat. But every time she tried, her seat wouldn't move backwards. Maybe it was broken. Maybe it was stuck. Or maybe the 6'2 guy behind her made dang sure her seat didn't infringe on his much needed legroom. It's a mystery.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

When work is viewed as play. The problem people who work abroad face when they return home.

For those looking for travel updates, you'll have to wait a week or so.  This one is longer than normal and examines the effects of working abroad on your future work potential when the traveler returns home.

There are many things I love about living abroad.  First and foremost, I love how it makes a challenge of everyday life.  Buying milk, yep.  Ordering in a restaurant, check.  Trying to get anywhere you can't walk to, definitely.  When the simplest tasks can stretch your imagination, improvisation, and miming skills, every day is interesting (can you mime your pizza order?  I now can).  Every time I'm back in the US, everything is so .... easy.  Frankly, it's boring.

I also miss the unexpected, like going to the sauna and ending up in a conversation with an older gentleman while naked in a hottub (this happened last week).  And of course, I hate to lose the easy travel.  Vacations to the Philippines aren't exactly simple when you live in Texas.  So obviously, there's a lot to like about working abroad.

However, many people see traveling and teaching abroad as a lazy slacker's way to avoid responsibility and a "real job".  They think people who do it lay around on a beach all day, living out a Peter Pan complex.  And for a few people I've met, that's accurate.  I'm not one of those people.

This leads to my one concern with working abroad.  Namely that doing this will hurt me when I decide to return to the US and look for a job.  It shouldn't.  My time abroad has helped me develop some very useful skills that will help me in every job I do.  One of the first that comes to mind is adaptability.  After 3 years abroad, I can deal with any problem, change, or situation without batting an eye.  Almost nothing phases me anymore.

Going hand in hand with adaptability is comfort with uncertainty.  People prefer certainty in most aspects of their lives, i.e. they prefer a steady income over a fluctuating one.  Uncertainty makes people worry.  When you work abroad though, uncertainty is a constant.  One you quickly become comfortable with.  Instead of worrying, you prepare for what might happen.

Another advantage is cultural awareness and sensitivity.  Working abroad teaches you how to work with a variety of people, even when communication isn't clear.  It helps you respect and learn from the views of others and often to adopt their way of doing things when they are superior to your own.  It makes you more open-minded to options and opinions other than your own.

Along with that open mind discussed above, comes a willingness to question things most people take for granted.   Some basic examples include why the US doesn't use the metric system or why ethics, manners and personal finance aren't taught in middle and high school as they are many places.  Or an even simpler one.  Why is it considered rude to verbally call a waiter over when we want something?  We expect them to read our minds and just know when we need food or drinks in a restaurant.  In Korea or Vietnam when you want something, you loudly call "over here" and a server comes right over.  It works so much better!  But most people wouldn't even think to question things like this because "that's just the way we do it".  In short, living abroad teaches you to think outside the proverbial box.

Even if potential employers accept these skills, they will often say, "You're several years removed from your degree.  You've been away from your field of study.  Your degree was worth more when you first graduated."  I couldn't disagree more.

What does an undergraduate degree prove?  It proves you're smart enough to graduate.  That you're dedicated enough to finish what you start.  What about a Master's degree?  It proves you can analyze a situation at least reasonably effectively.  That you can actually come up with solutions on your own, instead of just being told what to do and how to do it.  Unless you're in a highly specialized field like engineering or accounting, degrees don't impart knowledge specifically useful to a job so much as they impart a way of thinking and solving problems.  Almost all jobs will teach you what you need to know.  Give me an intelligent, hard-working person and I can teach them to do almost any job.  If the person is willing to be humble, learn, and work hard, the time since they graduated shouldn't be an issue for a company with even a half-decent training or mentoring program.

I write about all this, of course, because it personally affects me.  I love my life and I don't regret the choices that led me here for a moment.  The experiences I've had have shaped me into the man I am and provided a lifetime of wonderful memories.  However, I do worry that others may not understand and it might hurt me later.  So for now, I'll apply what I wrote about the above and prepare as much as possible for the uncertainty that will come when I decide to return to the US for good.  When I do, I'll pray that I find an employer that recognizes the value of my experience here.

However, that's enough somber reflection on this subject for now.  Now it's time to focus on the present and the amazing trip with Vicky that fills my very immediate future.  See you on the road!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Our route through Europe

Click on the picture to make it bigger

Several people have asked me about where Vicky and I will be going in Europe and when.  So here it is.  The map should help visualize what we'll be doing.

Aug 16-19  Istanbul, Turkey
Aug 20  Belgrade, Serbia
Aug 21-22  Budapest, Hungary
Aug 23-24  Vienna, Austria
Aug 25-27  Krakow, Poland
Aug 28-Sept 1  Prague, Czech Republic
Sept 2-3  Salzburg, Austria
Sept 4-5  Munich, Germany
Sept 6-8  Interlaken, Switzerland
Sept 9-11  Venice, Italy
Sept 12-14  Rome, Italy
Sept 15-16  Florence, Italy
Sept 16  Pisa, Italy
Sept 17-19  Paris, France
Sept 20-21  Barcelona, Spain
Sept 22-23  Lisbon, Portugal
Sept 24-25  Amsterdam, Netherlands
Sept 26-28  Brussels, Belgium
Sept 29-30  Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Oct 1-3  London, England
Oct 4  Dublin, Ireland
Oct 5  Fly to Dallas!!

The first day or two back in Texas I plan to do nothing but relax (eat), enjoy being back in Texas (eat more) and stare in wonder at all the people (why doesn't everyone look the same??) (did I mention I'll eat?). I'll probably look around in confusion when I hear people speaking English everywhere.  I'll definitely use small words and exaggerated hand gestures when speaking to any service people at stores.  I'll start to yell "yogi-oh" when I'm looking for a waiter in a restaurant (in Korean, that means "over here") before realizing we don't call out for service in the US.  I'll most likely appear quirky, strange, maybe even crazy.  

So in short, I'll behave exactly like I normally do :)