March fourth is a very important day, not only because it’s my birthday, but it is the only day that is a command. It is the calendar issuing you a challenge to march forth, step out of your comfort zone and try something new. As I get older the more I take this advice to heart as it is important to remember how frustrating and rewarding it is to learn something new.
When is the last time you learned something completely new? Below is my account of attempting to surf in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka. A short story to remind my aging self that “old dogs can learn new tricks.” And, hopefully inspires you to never lose that urge to try something new.
Fighting tears of pain and frustration after yet another wipe out on my surf board, I scanned the water to see if anyone had noticed my attempt at catching the wave. Exhausted and uninterested in paddling out to try and catch the next wave, I struggled to shore with my surfboard. Sitting on the beach surveying other beginners attempting to stand up on their boards I felt a little bit better about my efforts. However, it didn’t change the fact that learning something new is as tough as it is rewarding.
This was just the beginning of the learning something new epiphany that I had in Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka. Each morning when we woke up and headed to the beach to surf I was excited to attempt to walk on water. Even after many failed attempts, bumps and bruises I was filled with hope that tomorrow would be my day. Each break through and little triumph made me smile, while each setback taught me something new about my technique.
As I struggled to carry the surf board effortlessly under my arm, like so many of the seasoned boarders walking on the beach I fully realized how much harder it was than it looks. The reality is that I’m not going to become a surfer dude (or in this case dudette) overnight, or possibly ever. But the benefit of learning to surf went far beyond clearing my sinuses with plenty of salt water, acquiring a new skill builds confidence, creativity and to put it nicely is a very humbling experience.
Do you want to be more confident, inspiring and adaptable? Do you wish you could surf, cook gourmet meals or speak another language? Well, what if I told you all of these things are possible by simply putting your energy into learning new things. Why did this post turn into an infomercial? Because I really believe in the power of getting out of your comfort zone and gaining a new skill, so I want to sell you on the idea. The benefits are endless.
So, today, on the only day of the year that is a command I dare you to move beyond the things you know and learn something new. Be open to the possibilities in your life and explore new opportunities. Take the calendar’s challenge and March Forth!
“Escape from the bustling city for a day;” the brochure boasted and while I can’t say that the laid back city of Chiang Mai was getting to me a day out of any city sounded like heaven. The Thai Farm Cooking School is located only 17 km out of Chiang Mai, Thailand but the cool country breeze and fresh scents were a very welcome break from hot traffic and smelly exhaust. The morning began with a trip to the local market with a guide to explain the ingredients that go into a typical Thai dish. I had my notebook ready to take notes and plenty of questions from my previous market visits. I was happy to find the guide spoke excellent English and was happy to answer my myriad of questions. Once we had picked up all the necessary ingredients for the six dishes we would be preparing we headed out to the farm.
Upon arrival on the seven acre organic farm we entered the magical world of 1,000 trees as the residents refer to it. We were given a detailed tour of all the herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables that are grown organically at the farm and had the opportunity to taste each fresh ingredient. I found that I really enjoy long beans and that Thai coriander is basically a strong cilantro. With all of the items from the market and then the fresh picked veggies and herbs from the farm we were ready to cook.
The setting for our prep work was a picturesque gazebo over a lily pad pond offering a vista of the whole farm. If I could do all my kitchen prep in this type of setting I wouldn’t even mind how much I cry when chopping onions. We each had a mortar and pestle along with a cutting board and knife for making fresh green, red or yellow curry paste. I chose to make green curry as that’s my favorite, but once you learn the technique the only difference is the ingredients. The technique we were told takes lots of muscle and should be loud. We each took this advice to heart as the cacophony of mortar against pestle filled the air.
With the curry paste made the majority of our prep work was done, so we preceded to the spacious well-equipped kitchen. We each had our own cooking station with plenty of elbow room. ” Cook” our appropriately named Thai teacher began to demonstrate our first dish of curry with chicken, a delicious curry soup with coconut milk. The soup came together effortlessly and quickly by simply chopping up some pumpkin, chicken and onions then bringing it all to a boil with coconut milk. With the soup done we started on Tom Yam with shrimps where we really perfected the art of blending sweet, spicy and bitter flavors. If it’s too spicy add more sugar, if it’s too sweet add more salt and if it tastes bitter add more chili, sugar and salt. We had just one more dish before lunch and that was chicken with cashew nuts.
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Erica and Matt Chua: A Day on the Farm
hort-term travelers often curse the idiosyncrasies of foreign destinations such as strange toilets and unidentifiable foods. Being long-term travelers, we had no choice but to accept the local choice until we found we actually loved these options. Here are a few of the things that shocked us:
I love the conveniences and consistency of the developed world. I love that I can get the same cup of Pike Place Roast at every Starbucks globally. I love that I can get an Egg McMuffin in every McDonald’s I find. Knowing what I’m going to get removes a lot of anxiety and, sadly, thought from my daily life. Life on the road though requires me to see the many ways people attack the same problems. Here are a few that I’ve come to love.
I love shopping malls!?! Wow, I can’t believe I just said that, let alone in public…that’d be like me saying I’m listening to Taylor Swift as I type this, and, well, I wouldn’t admit to that, because of course that would never happen! OK, here’s the thing about malls, they aren’t the derelict, soul-less, institutions filled with mallrats considering their next hairstyle at Hot Topics like at home. Malls in much of the world are classy, air-conditioned, filled with great food options, and a window into the lives of a country’s wealthy. Did I mention they have free, clean bathrooms (I loveneed these). I decisively argued my case in the He Said-She Said: Malls vs Market post last year, but I’m still in awe with the fact that my love has only grown.
Malls, a great place for anything…even a nap!
I wish I could turn water into wine…if I could I would “bless” everyone on the Mississippi south of Minneapolis… Short of that superpower though, I love turning water into a delicious meal. All I need is some boiling water and I can whip up a delicious ramen dinner, because ramen noodles are delicious. In Asian supermarkets there is often an entire aisle of delicious ramen flavors, all of which will hit the spot for a filling dinner. I may have knocked the fact that I’ve been eating ramen here, but in reality, it’s #1 on my list of easy food.
I could probably go on and on with loves such as Japanese design, Tasmania, or a good roast chicken, but these best of’s just need to be experienced to be understood.
While many travelers collect souvenirs on their trip, I like to bring home ideas and new ways of doing things instead of just trinkets. Sometimes these things are simple changes to the way I look at something and other times they are huge mental shifts. Here are a couple things that I have grown to love on our world tour and I hope won’t go away once we’re stationary.
Seeing a clean squat toilet like this as the public restroom choice always makes me smile.
On the short list of things I hope to incorporate into my life are squat toilets and communal living. These things may not seem very travel-centric, but this trip has given me a fresh perspective on each. First of all, without going into too much detail, squat toilets have become my first choice when it comes to doing my business, particularly if I’m at a public restroom. The squatting seems to make everything go smoother. There’s nothing like needing to make a deposit only to find the toilet seat covered in someone else’s mess, which requires you to give your quads a good workout while you try to hover over the hole and hold the door shut.
Communal living has become a way of life as we move from hostel to hostel and country to country. While I can’t say I always want to have to wait in line to use the shower there is something magical about sharing space with strangers. Soon those people aren’t strangers and you have a whole new set of friends and perspectives to enjoy and ponder. The power of community and the benefits of shared living are huge. So, when I go home I’m looking to establish a communal living situation with squat toilets. Let me know if you’re interested, we’ll serve ramen and have regular trips to the mall.
Wine regions rarely disappoint. The combination of the visual, well-tended vines climbing towards the sky, and the experiential, flavors of the wine and food, will excite the most dull among us. Almost universally wine regions are worth the trip, but being situated literally halfway around the world from most people, Argentina’s Mendoza region needed to offer something more than tours and tasting rooms. Mendoza has succeeded in creating a food and wine experience worth the trip.
Mendoza is one the world’s most improbable and unique wine regions. Naturally it is a barren, as precipitation is kept on the Chilean side by the highest part of the Andes range. It should be a productive agriculture region as little as it should be a wine destination. Therein lies why it is successful though, generations had to work to make it happen, never taking for granted natural gifts. The culture of hard work that led to the irrigation and cultivation of the land has since been put into creating an international tourist destination.
Fulfilling it’s duty as Argentina’s largest wine producer by volume, Trapiche offers the gold standard of large-winery tours similar to Mondavi in California. Informative and thorough, the tours walk visitors through the entire process, albeit closer to the process than you can get in many other places.
What makes Mendoza special? It is the overall experience of European indulgence meets Latin America. It has incomparable views of wineries nestled against the tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas. It offers the expected wine tasting, but also locally produces the unexpected: world-class gelato, chocolate, honey, olive oil, and much more. It blends a historic town center with thousands of acres of parks and modern amenities. It even has adventure sports including climbing of one of the Seven Summits. In short, it has everything.
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Erica and Matt Chua: Why Wine Taste in Mendoza
We think we know our family, that our parents have been honest in who you’re related to and who you’re not. That is until the day you meet a member that you had no idea existed, even more surprising if it’s in an out-of-the-way place such as Borneo, but it happened. I was standing with my camera at attention in a wildlife sanctuary, when suddenly out of the trees swung my distant cousin. As soon as I saw her eyes I knew, I could see she recognized it too, we stood staring at each other. Breaking the awkward moment was her daughter, reaching from her arms, offering me a piece of fruit.
Sadly, due to linguistic differences we were unable to discuss our shared history, sort out when her family moved to Sarawak and how we were related. Sure, we had some differences, she’s much hairier than anyone in my family, has longer arms, and clearly superior tree climbing abilities, but the face, just look, chubby cheeks and all; we’re related. I did some research and was able to find out about her family, or should I say our family, the hominids, and our similarities. We all use tools, interact socially, enjoy eating fruits, and have similar reproductive terms (9 months in the womb, 22-30 days menstruation). While my city life is fundamentally different than theirs, there are definitely people living in the Indonesian archipelago, even Borneo itself, that live similar nomadic lives in the jungle, wearing little, and enjoying the fruits of the wild. It is hard to consider the realities of the Orangutans and not believe that we’re related.
Even though we’re in the same family, we’re driving the Orangutans to extinction. In our lifetime we may see them go functionally extinct, surviving only in captivity, or there may be none at all. For animals that we’re so closely related to, that we’ve shared earth for millions of years with, this is disturbing. Just like people do with outcasts from their more direct family, billions of people are determined to ignore the overwhelming evidence that we’re related. While claims that we were related to animals seemed incredulous in a world we knew little about, it’s ridiculously simple-minded to hold those beliefs today. We’re now able to travel the world and see it ourselves, connect-the-dots, and understand the relations between animals. It was once possible to live in a world of only what is immediately around you, but knowledge is fully accessible, travel is relatively accessible, and we can see with our own eyes what it took millennia to understand: we’re just part of an interconnected, related animal world. With this knowledge comes the responsibility to do something to protect the planet from ourselves.
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Erica and Matt Chua: All in the family
rriving in Shanghai at the end of our 14 week trip through China was a respite from the chaos and a fantastic end to our China adventure. Having battled spitting swarms of Chinese people throughout the country, arriving in the modern, state of the art train station was like being beamed on to another planet. Looking around I felt the same way Dorothy must have felt when she first arrived in the Land of Oz, wide-eyed and amazed. Public transport was simple and the people were as helpful as the munchkins, which made getting around almost as easy as following the yellow brick road.
Where do I begin with the praise for Shanghai? It is the largest city in China and the largest metro area in the world, yet remains shockingly clean. This may not sound like a huge feat, but if you have ever seen crowds of Chinese people you would understand why it is so hard to keep the streets spotless. All the spitting, indiscriminate throwing out of trash and the complete disregard for any kind of cleanliness leads to clogged sewers and horrible smells throughout the rest of China. But not in Shanghai, the streets are buffed to a shine and I didn’t experience any vomit inducing smells walking down the streets.
Shanghai is also the most westernized city in China. Shanghai’s basketball team produced NBA sensation Yao Ming, the Grand Theater gets musicals such as Cats and you can buy cheese. We even went to an Italian buffet in Shanghai, what a treat! Beyond the creature comforts of Western ways we enjoyed conveniences such as faster internet, better signage and more English speakers. The influence of the West also brought larger shopping malls, taller buildings and excellent public transport (well, I can’t necessarily attribute all those things to the west, they were appreciated nonetheless).
Besides being clean and westernized, which I cannot emphasize enough how much we appreciated these two things, Shanghai is also a fabulous city. Many travelers told us that it wasn’t worth spending more than three days maximum and offered only a short list of attractions. However, we found ourselves very comfortable in Shanghai and were happy to stay for a week and had no trouble filling our time. If you only have three days for Shanghai, below is what I would recommend.
50 Moganshan Arts District
I really enjoyed the art scene in Shanghai, we visited 50 Moganshan Arts District, which featured cutting edge Chinese artists expressing themselves in a variety of mediums. There were unique paintings, excellent photographs and all the artists were happy to chat about their work.
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Erica and Matt Chua: The Best of Shanghai in 3 Days
lmost a year ago we wrote about the lessons we’ve learned from travel. After five more countries as diverse as Australia and Nepal here are the things we think we know.
Arriving in India from the developed world highlighted the contrasts and taught me more than if I had arrived from another developing culture. Moving from some of the most functional democracies in the world, Australia and Singapore, to arguably the world’s least, India and Nepal, showed me that good governance is the difference. These are the most important lessons I’ve learned in the past year.
- Government services and infrastructure matter. I said this last year after enjoying the epic infrastructure of China, Japan and South Korea. Seeing perfectly functioning societies with huge infrastructure investment isn’t nearly as powerful as seeing countries without it. India and Nepal don’t have trash collection, reliable electricity, water or roads. Without focusing on providing these services and projects the countries will never advance.
A Chinese bullet train station above versus an Indian train station below. China’s investment in transportation will pay dividends for generations…
- Justice must be blind. Laws and legal decisions must be made in the name of justice, not family name, bribes, or to gain favor. If everyone doesn’t have to play by the same rules, a country cannot fully develop as those that are disenfranchised have no incentive to innovate and create. While the riches will accrue to the few that aren’t bound by laws, the society as a whole won’t benefit. You can see this in Mexico and India, home to some of the world’s richest people, surrounded by some of the poorest.
- It’s a big world out there. Entering our third year of consecutive travel we have barely scratched the surface of seeing how people live, interact and make a life. While there are PhD’s that have super-specialized knowledge on cultures and people, traveling is still the best way to get a sampling of what makes us all different and similar at the same time.
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Erica and Matt Chua: He Said/She Said: Travel Lessons Revisited
Korean food ran the gambit from the good, the bad and the downright ugly. On many occasions Korean cuisine surprised us, apparently South Koreans are better at more than kimchi. Who knew that South Korea makes the best fried chicken in the world? I feel that I am uniquely qualified to make a judgement on the best fried chicken in the world because I’ve tried my fair share due to my husband’s fried chicken addiction. He even believes his future is in fried chicken and beer. So, while I know your dying to hear about kimchi, let’s start with the ugly and work our way to the highlights. I want you to enjoy Korean cuisine, so I’ll end on a high note.
You will enjoy Korean food if you avoid two things; Lotteria and pig’s foot. Lotteria is South Korea’s answer to McDonald’s. Everything from the menu to the value meals is a mirror of McDonald’s offerings. While I’m not a huge fan of McDonald’s, we were told several times that we had to try Lotteria. We decided we didn’t have too much to lose as it is a fast and cheap food option. Little did we know that the similarities ended with the look alike menu. The cheeseburger we had tasted as if it had strawberry jam mixed with mayonnaise on it and I’m convinced the french fries we were served were made weeks ago. In short avoid Lotteria at all costs.
The pig’s foot should have been more obvious than Lotteria as something to steer clear of, some may even say that I deserved what I got when I decided to try this local delicacy. However, I am a firm believer in the old adage “when in Rome…” We had heard of the popularity of pig feet, but it wasn’t until we saw it prominently displayed by every vendor in Seoul’s Namdaeumun Market that we decided we had to try it. We hunted out the best pig foot we could find, not having any idea what you look for in a good pig foot. Because quite frankly “good pig foot” sounds like an oxymoron to me. However, even as I watched the woman we purchased our foot from working to dismember it in preparation for us to eat it I remained positive. When she set it in front of us it didn’t look too promising and then she gave us each a set of plastic gloves and my optimism started to fade. Anything too vile to touch with bare hands probably shouldn’t be eaten, but against my better judgement I put a gelatinous piece of foot in my mouth. It lived up to my worst nightmares, it was a fatty, Jell-O like texture and the taste was so bad I almost gagged trying to swallow it. Then and there the award for worst item imbibed on this trip was given to the pig’s trotters. We paid for our foot and passed on the remaining bits to the eager Koreans sitting next to us, laughing at our disgusted expressions.
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Erica and Matt Chua: Korean Food: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly
“The pride of India” is India Railway’s undeniable slogan. The train system is a marvel, moving hundreds of millions of people annually. There is nothing in India that works with the efficiency and scale that the railway does. It’s not world-class in any sense, but to get around and interact with Indian people, the trains are the way to go. Serving as an artery to connect nearly every city, this is how nearly every person, caste, and family gets around. The conversations that can be had in a compartment will be at least as memorable as the trip itself. Here’s how to get train tickets when you need them to maximize your time in India.
An Second AC (2AC) cabin. Not too bad…but either is the much cheaper 3AC.
THE CLASSES OF TRAVEL
In most trains there are five classes: First Class (1AC), Second A/C (2AC), Third A/C (3AC), Sleeper (SL), Second Seating (2ND) and General Seating (GS). On some trains there are AC Chair cars which are exceptional for daytrips, but this is not recommended for long rides as it’s basically an economy class airplane seat.
As you can see there is a huge difference in cost, First Class costing over 12 times the reserved seat price. With such a price difference you can be assured a totally different clientele in each, providing a different perspective on India in each class. Most budget travelers opt for Sleeper class. Due to the noise, dust and grime that come with open windows we always preferred 3AC. 2AC is hard to recommend, while substantially quieter than 3AC due to less families, the cost differential was too much for us as the bed itself is the same.
If you gamble with General Seating you may end up squeezing in this close as we did on a train to Agra. (Read about that experience here)
India Railways does an admirable job to ensure that tourists aren’t delayed by lack of tickets. There is a quota of tickets available only for foreigners on almost every train. To get these tickets you must purchase them at a station, in-person, with your passport. Touts and tour agencies will often tell you that tickets aren’t available for certain routes, trying to steer you onto a commission paying bus, but always check the station in person for Tourist Quota before giving up on the train. Buying tickets at the station is relatively painless and will save you big money on commissions and hassle from tourist agencies.
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Erica and Matt Chua: Easily Score an Indian Train Ticket
The Romans never cease to amaze me, here I am writing about Jordan and the Middle East yet the Romans have yet again inserted themselves into the history of the region. I shouldn´t be surprised considering that they were one of the largest empires in the ancient world. I guess it says more about my poor grasp of history than the Romans that Ididn´t realize they conquered the lands around the Mediterranean and beyond. Yet I was shocked to find one of the most important and well preserved cities of the Roman empire in modern day Jordan.
The imposing Hadrian´s Gate sets the tone for your visit to the impressive ruins of Jerash. Passing under the enormous arch of the Gate I was even more blown away by the Romans. Not only had they stretched their empire farther East than I had thought, but I was dwarfed by the stunning architecture, collonaded streets and towering temples that made up the ancient city of Jerash.
While Petra gets all the attention Jerash should not be missed, a far less crowded visit allows for a close-up look at the splendour of the ancient Roman empire. If you time your visit right, which seems to be more luck than anything, you can enjoy the site void of any other visitors. Without the crowds I found a new appreciation for the worn cobblestones of the Cardo, where if you look closely you can see the chariot tracks and begin to imagine the city´s major buildings, shops and residences that lined the road.
The Nymphaeum set my imagination in motion once again as I tried to picture the grandeur of the fountain in it’s prime, decorated with lion heads and etched with detailed carvings. Somehow without any modern day reminders transforming the sights of ancient Jerash to their original glory, in my mind, was easier. The luxury of seeing the city without a throng of tourists gave me a new appreciation for the Romans and their amazing ancient cities.
The Romans were never ones to overlook entertainment as is evident with the 3,000 seat theater in Jerash. Occassionaly used today for performances, it’s amazing how the stone steps and massive stage have stood the test of time. Without a performace in the amphittheater it was still an incredible testament to the Romans architectural expertise.
While I sincerely hope your historical knowledge is better than mine, if you let the world be your classroom you can learn about the Roman empire in Jordan of all placews. The architecture will amaze you, sending you back in time to imagine what the ancient world was like in the Eastern reaches of one of the most powerful empires in the world.
WHEN YOU GO:
Get a taxi from Amman, we opted to navigate the confusing and difficult public transport system to make our way to Jerash only to find that a shared taxi home was much easier and almost the same price. Skip the hassle and get a cab
Come prepared, Jerash is huge and requires a fair amount of walking, wear comfortable shoes and bring lots of water
Plan for a half day at least, visiting the ancient ruins of Jerash requires a lengthy cab ride and lots of working so make sure you budget enough time.