Grad School: 50% Complete!

It has been such a long time since I’ve posted! This past semester has been the busiest of my life – I honestly don’t think I worked this hard in all of my undergrad combined. But it is the good kind of busy – where it flies by and you feel accomplished when it’s over.

The summer intensive program was just how it sounds – INTENSE. We had a different class every week complete with one final per week. Thankfully, we all made it through. It was a stressful time for everyone. I had a really hard time adjusting back to school life and studying.

To help us not feel overwhelmed, the program sponsored a visit to Dodger’s stadium. I’m not a huge fan of baseball, but beer and hot dogs was fun. 🙂

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Also, I fortunately made a tight-knit group of friends pretty quickly. We would de-stress on the weekends. Our friend Yi would host almost weekly parties at his place and we would have a blast.

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But I made it out with a B+ and I’m damn proud of it. After summer intensive was over, I moved to a new apartment in a neighborhood that is… less than ideal. But at least people don’t miss my house when they’re dropping me off!

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After the end of summer intensive, I went back home to Iowa for the break. I visited the Iowa State Fair and had the infamous roast beef sundae (worth the wait). It was really strange being at the state fair this year without my Grandma Jo. She was always such an advocate for not only the fair, but us kids.

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Missing someone special. ❤

It was hard to be there without her. I got to see some old friends once we got back to Mediapolis, though. And finally, sparing the drama and details, Cody and I officially broke things off. He wasn’t willing to move to LA and I’m still not willing to stay in Iowa. Some things just aren’t meant to be! Thankfully, as soon as I got back to LA, things started right back up where they left off at 500 mph.

We jumped straight into recruiting. I met more people than I could possibly remember and was thrown into the adult world of networking. The following week, classes started. I’d basically be in class from 9:30am – 5, depending on the day, have a recruiting event starting at 6:30pm that wouldn’t be over until about 10pm, go home, do homework, try to do readings for class, wake up, and repeat. Needless to say, it was also pretty busy. We still made time for de-stress pool days though…

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California sun – I’ll never get tired of it.

During the recruiting process, there were “rounds”. The first step was all of the meet and greets. This was our opportunity to make a good first impression with the Public Accounting firms.

For any friends reading that aren’t familiar with how all of this nonsense works, let me break it down for you! There are basically three divisions of public accounting you can go in to – Advisory, Tax, and Audit. Also, there are four large firms that most people really want to work for – KPMG, Deloitte, PwC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers), and EY (Earnst & Young). Advisory and tax are pretty much what they sound like – advisory advises companies on how to complete an IPO or a merger, tax helps companies not evade taxes… but minimize them. 🙂

Audit, the field that I’m going into, is probably the least understood by the public. I won’t work in an office, and my only job isn’t to detect fraud. Basically, I’ll travel to a client’s site, investigate and sample various pieces of their accounting records (invoices, purchase orders, etc.) along with other testing, to make sure that there are no material misstatements on their financial statements. This not only includes fraud, but also earnings management. I’ve learned so much this past semester about auditing companies and all of the misconceptions that come along with being an auditor. Sometimes, fraud can’t be caught when everyone in a company is working together to cover it up. Or in the case of Enron, everyone was technically following the rules as laid out by GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).

In any case, tangent over, that is the field I’ll be going into. And so throughout recruiting I was meeting with various Audit/Assurance (different names, same thing) associates and managers to network! We submitted all of our applications to the firms we were interested in. Then “round 1” was being invited to the initial interview on campus. I was invited by every firm I applied to except for one. I think overall, I had 7 initial interviews. I cast a wide net because I was so worried about not getting a job offer.

After the first round interview, you could be invited to the second round interview – which was held at each company’s building. I was invited to all 7 companies for second round interviews. But that was really overwhelming for me – without a car, it was hard enough to make it to all of the different events. So I ended up turning a few down. I went to 5 second round interviews – the big four plus Cohn Reznick.

The best part of recruiting was all of the wining and dining they did. At every second round interview, there was a really nice dinner and usually, an open bar. KPMG even invited some of us to the Staple’s Center for a King’s game!

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Go hockey!

I ended up getting 4 offers – PwC, EY, KPMG, and CohnReznick. I chose to sign with KPMG for various reasons – I had a really good vibe from everyone there from the very beginning. They were actually the first firm I walked up to and made connections at at the very first firm social we had. The offers were all very similar in regards to pay and benefits, so that wasn’t really a factor. I just really clicked with everyone that I met at KPMG and felt so welcome during every interaction with them.

So that is pretty exciting news! I will be starting as an Audit Associate in Fall of 2016 with KPMG. I already have my job lined up! Once I got that news, I felt like I could let go a little bit and lighten up with school. I even made it to a few football games! 🙂

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Fight on!

Shortly after signing my offer and finishing recruiting, Thanksgiving snuck up on us! My little brother, Brody, flew out to visit. We went to Vegas with the squad over the weekend and then stayed in LA for the rest of the time. On actual Thanksgiving day, we drove out to our godparents’, Abert and V, house to celebrate.

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We had a blast. When Brody was here, I tried to take him to do fun things, so we went to an escape room, Hollywood, Santa Monica, and a comedy club. We actually MET NICK SWARDSON!

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Is this real life!?!

That was one of the coolest nights of my life and I still can’t believe it actually happened. We didn’t have tickets to get in and were waiting at the bar, hoping that someone wouldn’t show up so we could get into the show. Everyone else had already gone in and all of a sudden, Nick Swardson just shows up and starts talking to Brody! We snapped this picture and then Nick got us into the show for FREE! It was amazing.

After Brody left, I just had another week or two of classes and then finals! So far, I’ve gotten one A, one A-, one B+, and one B that I know of. But grades haven’t been finalized yet. I guess we’ll find out our official grades in the coming weeks.

This past weekend, my friend Victoria from high school came to visit me too! We mostly just ate and drank stuff while she was here, but I had such a good time seeing her again. ❤

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The lovely Victoria and I. ❤

Now it’s Christmas and I’m chilling by my damn self. I cleaned the whole house and organized all the random stuff in various drawers in my room. Now I’m writing this!

My Christmas is just delayed this year. On Dec. 31, I’m flying to Las Vegas to meet up with Doug and Joshua (my uncle and my cousin). They are driving my car from Iowa to Vegas! So I’ll spend the new year there with them.

Then on Jan. 4, I fly to Miami from Vegas! I’ll arrive in the morning on Jan. 5 and spend a little bit less than a week with them. I fly back to Vegas on Jan. 10 and then I’ll drive my car from Vegas back to LA that Sunday. Classes start the next morning on Monday!

So over the next week, I’m just going to be chilling in LA. My friend wrote a book that I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t had time. Also, I still haven’t seen Game of Thrones… I’ll probably spend most of my time staring at screens, but it’s so strange to have all this free time. I almost don’t know what to do with myself.

Anyway – until next year! Hope you’re all having happy holidays!

Hello Los Angeles!

Well – I made it! My boyfriend, Cody, and I arrive this past Monday to the sunny city of Los Angeles. We ran around getting luggage and trying to figure out where to pick up our rental car. By the time we figured that all out, we headed to meet up with my good friend Will! You might remember him from my first two weeks in China? He was over there with me until he ET’d shortly after we arrived. But we had already instantly bonded.

Reunited at last!

Reunited at last!

We had dinner and a few drinks and crashed at his place out in La Palma. On Tuesday, we woke up, and it was raining! Cody and I had a rainy, but delicious breakfast together. We were supposed to go the beach this day, but the weather wasn’t cooperating, so we went to the Griffith Observatory. Which also happens to have a pretty great view of the Hollywood sign.

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Welcome to Hollywood!

We saw two shows in the planetarium that were pretty cool. Then we went to check in at our hostel on Venice Beach. After getting settled in, I was still kind of disgruntled about not being able to have a beach day. So Cody and I went and bought a six-pack and sat on the beach anyway. Miraculously, the sun came out and we watched the sunset.

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Later that night, we made friends with some of the other people staying at the hostel, played beer pong, and just generally had a good time. But we were up early on Wednesday because that was when I moved into my apartment! It wasn’t quite as nice as the pictures they had on their website, but still pretty good. We spent most of Wednesday running around buying stuff for my apartment – I thought it would be furnished with linens and pots and pans and hangers, but it definitely wasn’t. So I had to buy ALL of that stuff. I forgot how fast those little things all add up. While I was unpacking, Cody went to district managers here in LA to see about possibly transferring out here! I think it’ll mostly be luck, though.

Kitchen

Kitchen

Bathroom

Bathroom

Sink area (separate from bathroom, kind of weird)

Sink area (separate from bathroom, kind of weird)

So much closet space!

So much closet space!

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Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Living Room

Living Room

So I got all moved in and there was still no sign of any roommates! I found out that I would only have ONE other person in the FOUR bedroom apartment! I was so stoked! That means I’ll have my room all to myself. At least until Fall, anyway. I met my roommate on Friday night. Her name is Nila and she seems pretty cool. She’s getting her Master of Finance – so it’s a similar one year program. She was originally from Iran, but her parents live in Irvine and she said the commute was just too far.

Wednesday night, Will, Cody, and I went to “The Basement” – a live escape room experience. Basically, the concept is that you pay them to lock you in a room and you have a certain amount of time to solve puzzles to “escape”. I had never done one before, but the concept seemed really interesting to me. So it was three of us, and the room was TINY! We got stuck on the second puzzle and were basically screwed from there. We all left feeling just really frustrated, but it was still pretty fun in any case. I think my friend Will and I are going to go back and try again.

Thursday morning was Will’s birthday, so we went down to the Original Pantry – breakfast was FANTASTIC! Then Cody and I went to the Grove and went shopping. We stopped by his old place of employment, a butcher shop, and the owner offered him his job back right away. Sometimes things just work in mysterious ways. And then we went to….

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MURDER HOUSE! From American Horror Story! It was all roped off and besides the front entrance, didn’t look like the house on the show at all! Like over to the left in this picture, there is a full glass living room that definitely wasn’t in the show. And then a long garage to the right. The magic of cinema, I suppose.

We also headed over to the Walk of Fame!

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Her hands were tiny!

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At lastttt…

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Look who I ran into!!!

I almost got sucked into Scientology while we were there too. But we had to go meet up with Cody’s friends Tommy and Liz. They were really cool people and cooked dinner for us. We had a great time.

Then, Friday morning, Cody left to go back to LA! And I went to the Welcome Luncheon. It was a little awkward and weird – I’m not good at small talk and mingling with strangers, but I made one friend. And would you believe it – she’s Chinese. Not only is she Chinese, but she is from Chengdu!!! How crazy is that?! Her name is CaiLinJun, but she goes by Caitlin here in the US. She has a little British accent, she is super sweet (but not like hello kitty sweet or anything), AND she got me our first week’s textbook for free as a .pdf file!!! I think she was sent to me to change my mind about China and the Chinese people. So far it’s working.

This weekend, I mostly just unpacked and settled in.Yesterday, I explored the campus a little bit. It is really beautiful.

Fight On? I guess that's the slogan.

Fight On? I guess that’s their slogan.

It reminds me a lot of Simpson College campus – the red and gold colors, the green grass, quiet brick pathways. I think I’m really going to like it there.

Today, I spent TWELVE HOURS reading the first FIVE chapters of our Intermediate Accounting textbook. That is 284 pages. Poor Caitlin only got through 20. I don’t know how the international students are going to be able to keep up at that pace. Hell, I don’t even know if I’LL be able to keep up! Our assignment for tomorrow night is two more chapters (~100+ pages) and a homework assignment. Plus we’re supposed to be refining our resumes for some sort of resume file that will be used for recruiting.

It all makes me a bit nervous, but I’m just going to take it a day at a time and hope everything falls into place as it should.

In Mourning

Written May 20, 2015.

The past 24 hours have been the most anguishing of my life. Yesterday morning, my Grandma Joanne​ had a massive stroke and she passed away early this morning. It was completely unexpected and came as a shock to us all.

Just Sunday, TWO days ago, we all attended my cousin Mikala’s high school graduation ceremony.

Grandma Jo – in the blue floral shit. Always laughing and having a good time!

After the ceremony, we all went to my Uncle Dan’s house and we were all there laughing and having a great time. We were joking about so many things and she was perfectly normal, being her sassy self. She has always been in perfectly good health. Probably better than any of the rest of us! She ate pretty healthy (usually) and went to work out classes with ladies her age in Mediapolis three times a week.

After eating Dan’s cheesy potatoes on Sunday night, she probably felt guilty and thought she had to go to her workout class Monday morning. So she went to Massner’s Gym and they started doing their warm up for the class. I was told that about fifteen minutes into the warm up, she complained of a terrible headache and fainted. They called the ambulance and it came right away. We all rushed down to Great River Hospital in Burlington where they had taken her. They air-lifted her to Iowa City so that neurologists could treat her. At that time, we only knew she had had a massive stroke.

Once we arrived in Iowa City, the neurologists said there was too much bleeding in her brain and the pressure had already done too much damage. They said it would only be a matter of time until she would pass away.

But she was surrounded all of her children and grandchildren. We were all able to tell her how much we loved her and say goodbye. She died without pain this morning at 6:55 a.m.

I am still in shock and her death seems like some terrible nightmare I can’t wake up from. We were going to all go on a family vacation together next year after Brody and I graduated. And Grandma, Mom, and I were going to go to Paris together. Grandma was going to show me the little bakery she always went to in the morning over there.

My heart is broken as I reflect on and reminisce over our many treasured memories together.

I used to come down to Iowa every summer and spend a whole week with Grandma by myself. She would take me to the county fair and buy me lemonade shake-ups and a clip-on feather for my cowboy hat. Or I would go to Danville Elementary School, where she taught first grade for many, many years, and help her get ready for the new school year. We would put up new bulletin boards, write all of her new student’s names on little apples and laminate them and I would help her cut them out. I remember the year I helped her sew what seemed like a hundred little cloth bags for her students.

I used to love playing dress up as a little girl. We just learned this past Saturday from her sister Debbie, as we were helping her move into her new house in Lone Tree, it’s probably because my ring finger was shorter than hers. Grandma’s pointer finger was shorter, so that meant she was a tomboy. But anyway, when I was a little girl, she sewed me a bunch of dresses to play dress up in.

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But before she had sewn me those, I used to play dress up in her clothes. She always told the story about how I put on a beautiful old white, chiffon gown of hers and rubber boots and went out in the pig pen to play with pigs. I think that’s probably why she sewed me all of those dresses after that.

She also took me to a fishing competition one summer and tells the story about how the whole way to the lake, she was lecturing how it was just for fun and it wasn’t about winning. When we got there, I kept getting the hook caught in the trees and the bushes and she was getting all frustrated and bent out of shape. She said I turned around and told her, “Remember, Grandma. It’s just for fun and it isn’t about winning,” We always laughed about that story.

But when I was a Sophomore in High School, our summer visit turned into a permanent one as we moved from Minnesota to Iowa. When I got the lead in the musical, Grandma was so ecstatic. She supported my dream of being a singer all through high school. We used to go on what we secretly called our “Geriatric Tour”, where I would sing and she would play the piano for me at different nursing homes around southeast Iowa. She would play for me at any Bill Riley competition I went to. And we even went up to Ames for the Best in Center Performance, although we ran out of gas on the way there and got stuck in a tiny little town for about two hours. I still don’t know how we made it on time. She came to every single one of my performances.

She helped me pick out my prom dresses both Junior and Senior year. She helped me practice for Town and Country Days and Share the Fun. She helped me with my 4-H projects. She was always there for me, every step of the way. As she has always said, “Family First.”

We traveled to Seattle when I was a Senior, too. We went para-sailing together. When you get ready to take off, they tell you to keep your legs sticking straight out. Grandma was so nervous, she kept her feet sticking straight out the whole time we were in the air!

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Soon after that, I went on to college, but she still came to see me sing in my Madrigal performances. Finally, when I went to study abroad in Argentina during my last semester in college, her and my brother came to visit me.

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We had a great time and saw a tango show, went to the Japanese Garden, the Pink House, the Floralis Generica (big silver flower), San Telmo, Recoletta, La Boca. All over Buenos Aires. I’ll never forget when she took her teeth out on the bus to the tango show (I have a picture, but I think she might haunt me if I put it on the internet) or when I had to sprint back to the taxi she had left her expensive camera in.

We were planning on having a few more adventures before her time was up. But the neurologists in Iowa City said that the word “stroke” literally means “struck down by God”. I think there isn’t a more fitting way she could have gone, because God is about the only thing that could stop her. She always lived life to the fullest, took advantage of every opportunity, and wanted to have a good time. I will never forget her laughter or her smile. Although a great woman died this morning, her life did not end. She will live on not only in my memories, but in the memories of all who knew her. Rest in peace, Grandma Jo. I will love and cherish you forever.

Accepted!

After a month long application process and interview, I’ve been accepted as a graduate student to the Leventhal School of Accounting at the University of Southern California!

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I’m super excited and it seems a bit unreal that in less than one month, I’ll be living and studying in Los Angeles. Let me tell you all a little bit more about the program!

Since I didn’t have an accounting undergrad degree, I’m a “summer student” of the accounting program. Summer students are required to take additional classes in the summer to catch up with accounting undergrads. Basically, they’re cramming 4 years of accounting education into two months of intensive courses. I’ll be studying with music undergrads, biology undergrads, and the like. My move-in date is June 10 and classes start June 15.

I will be living at the University Gateway apartments for these two months with other summer students. It’s completely furnished, so I can just fly out there and get to studying! I do have to share the bedroom with a roommate, which will be weird after being on my own for so long, but it’s only for two months. And check it out – they’re pretty nice! At least in the pictures. No wonder the rent is $975 per month…

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Bedroom

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Kitchen

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Living Room

Once the summer term is over, I’ll be able to sign a lease with the new bffs I’ve made during the summer program! Then the Fall term will begin. During the Fall semester is when all of the recruiting happens. Companies will be hiring students to work for them upon graduation. So I might have a job lined up for after graduation in only a few months!

The program is only one year long, so I’ll be graduating May 2016 – the same time my little brother will be graduating from Western Illinois University with his Bachelor’s! I think it will fly by since the course load is so intense. I’m looking forward getting back to school and adding more skills to my tool belt. I’ll keep you all updated once I get out there! 🙂

Weeks 41, 42, & 43: Medically Separated!

After a few weeks of doctor’s appointments, Peace Corps Washington has decided that “your medical condition has a high risk of being aggravated by or recurring during Peace Corps service, which would jeopardize your health”. I am therefore being medically separated as of tomorrow, April 10, 2015. I’m feeling a mix of emotions, but mostly relief. If you ever talked to me about my experiences in China, you will know that it was very difficult for me to adjust to the culture there. I’ve been pretty tame with my criticisms of China here on my blog considering it is a public forum and I am supposed to be a good diplomat between the two countries. Knowing that I don’t have to go back is amazing.

But I also feel guilty for leaving my fellow PCV’s behind – especially the ones I have become such good friends with (you know who you are, my loves). I feel like I got a “get out of Peace Corps free” card while my friends are still serving and struggling through the daily annoyances of living in China. I’m also disappointed that I wasn’t able to finish the entire 2 years of service. But since the decision to be medically separated was out of my hands, I guess I can’t blame myself entirely.

With these new developments, I’m a little bit at a loss. I was supposed to be living in China still and obviously hadn’t been looking for a job or applying to grad schools since this all happened so suddenly. But I’ve decided that I do want to go back to grad school. I’m trying to quickly get everything in before deadlines pass. Hopefully I’ll get in somewhere on such short notice. I’d like to go back to get my Master of Accounting (MAcc). I’m really hoping to get into University of Southern California, but we’ll just have to see how things play out!

I’m heading back to Iowa next week. I think my parents have had enough of me for now! If I don’t get into grad school, I’ll get a job in Iowa somewhere (hopefully in accounting) and work until I can apply again next year.

The past few weeks in Miami have been pretty awesome. I wasn’t sure if I’d be medically separated, but I wanted to be prepared if I was, so I had been studying for the GMAT in my free time. When I first took the practice test, I scored 580. Less than two weeks later, I took the real test and scored a 710 out of 800. I feel pretty bad ass about that.

I also went to Ultra Music Festival 2015 – one of the largest, if not THE largest, electronic music festivals in the United States. It blew my mind. It was so amazing. I love electronic music and a ton of my favorite artists were there – Cazzette, Bassnectar, Krewella, Skrillex, Clean Bandit, David Guetta, Tiesto, Martin Garrix – the list goes on and on. I also discovered a couple new artists that I really dig too.

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ULTRA

OMG I'M REALLY HERE! (Steve Aoki was playing then)

OMG I’M REALLY HERE! (Steve Aoki was playing then)

It was a three day festival. My Dad and I went on Friday and tried to scalp tickets, but they were like $450. No way. We went Saturday again and got tickets for $300 each. It sounds expensive, but when you think about how many artists there were, it was actually pretty reasonable. We stayed all night on Saturday. It was an awesome father daughter bonding experience. Hell, he’s the one who taught me to enjoy electronic music to begin with back in middle school and high school! Then I went back on Sunday by myself. It was amazing. Feeling the bass vibrating your entire body and being surrounded by people who are as in love with the music as you are. It created an unparalleled energy. The bass beats in electronic music just brings out this primal adrenaline in me and I was so happy to be in front of those speakers and lose myself in the music. It was fate that I happened to be in Miami when the festival was happening and I just couldn’t miss it.

On Tuesday, I went with my Mom to meet her old friend Merry Beth – we had a blast up in West Palm Beach. It was a great day and I had so much fun meeting her old friend. I can definitely see why my Mom is friends with her. My Mom and I had a lot of bonding too on the drive back to Miami. Even though she drives me crazy sometimes, it has been great to be back and spend time with her. This time spent together is priceless.

Me, Momma, and Merry Beth

Me, Momma, and Merry Beth

I also just got LASIK eye surgery yesterday! Before I ever joined Peace Corps, I had been looking into it. But I didn’t have enough time to do it before I left for China. So I swore I would do it once I got back to the United States. Here I am, so I finally did it! The whole process was finished fairly quickly. I went in for an initial evaluation last week – they said I was a good candidate for surgery. I then had a final eye appointment this past Monday to get my exact prescription measurements. I then went in yesterday morning at 8:30am and I was out of there by 10. I laid down on a table, they put a thing on my eye to keep it open and put numbing drops in my eye. Then the doctor used a little paintbrush to remove the top layers of my eye. It was like in movies when someone comes up to the camera and wipes it off, except it was my eye. Then I stared into the red light (the laser), smelled a little burning, and that was it. They put a clear contact on my eye to act as a band-aid. Then they did the other eye. And it was over! It didn’t hurt until I got home and the anesthetic eye drops started to wear off. It felt like i had two or three eyelashes stuck in my eyes that I couldn’t get out. Obviously there were no eyelashes, I had just gone through a traumatic surgery! They told me to sleep once I got home, so after a while, I finally did. When I woke up, they still hurt, but it was only like one eyelash was caught in each eye. By the time night rolled around, it was much better. I could open my eyes and watch TV, although I’d need to take breaks and close my eyes to let them rest. And this morning, I am finally almost pain free. Now it just feels like I’ve kept contacts in for too long. I have a variety of eye drops to put in (anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, anesthetic, etc.) every few hours, so that helps. I go back on Monday to have the band-aid contacts taken out and then I should be able to see 20/20! Right now, distance vision is still blurry, but they said that’s to be expected. I’m just so happy I finally did it. It is an investment that will pay for itself over time. The younger I was when I got it, the longer I’d be able to enjoy the benefits!

Tomorrow night, I’m meeting up with an old friend that I met when I studied abroad in Argentina, Simone! I’m excited to see her again. This weekend, my parents have old friends coming into town, so I’ll probably go do whatever with them. Next week, I want to get to the beach! I still haven’t been yet!!! And then Thursday, I’ll be heading back to Iowa. I can’t wait to see everyone there – my little brother and the rest of my family and all of my old friends. It’ll be a fun week reuniting with everyone.

As for this blog – I know I started it to stay in touch and document my service through Peace Corps, but I might still post on here every once in a while to keep everyone updated. Although I’m not going to be in China any more, I’m still going to be in transit. If nothing else, I enjoy writing here – it helps me keep track of my life myself! So until something interesting happens (I get into grad school, hopefully!!!), I might stay quiet. Or maybe not. Who knows!

With that, I’ll leave you with a little compilation from Ultra. ❤

Weeks 38, 39, & 40: Medically Evacuated

Shortly after my last blog post, and only one week into my Spring classes, I was medically evacuated. I’d rather not go into all of the details on such a public forum, but I’m posting this to let everyone know that I’m back in the United States!

A medical evacuation means that I have a medical issue that couldn’t be resolved in China. I’ve heard stories from other PCV’s that this could range from having frequent urinary tract infections to foot fungi, malaria, parasites, ocular problems, gastrointestinal infections, to pregnancy (don’t worry, it’s not that last one). After sending an email to PCMO and talking to the doctors, I was notified, quite suddenly on Friday night, that I would be medically evacuated with little more information than that. Thankfully, my bestie Jordan was in Kaili with me and we got through the shock of it together.

The next day, we tried to relax and have a spa day, but we had our bouts of tears throughout the day. She left later that night and I was left to pack up my belongings. I was up packing until 4am. I was afraid to leave anything behind in case I would later be medically separated. After my experience in Brazil (another long story), having left everything in country and not being able to renew my visa and therefore get back to my precious belongings, I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

All day Sunday was travel. I took a train from Kaili to Guizhou. A taxi to the airport. A plane from Guizhou to Chengdu. A taxi from the airport to Sichuan University. A night in the international student dorms where I thankfully got a full 8 hours of sleep.

Then the traveling REALLY began on Monday. I would be returning to my Home of Record – Miami – where my parents are currently living. I woke up at 6am. Taxi to the airport. 12 hour flight from Chengdu to San Francisco. There were so many Chinese people in San Francisco, it didn’t feel real yet. And although I left at 10am on Monday in China, I arrived in the US at 8am on Monday. So I went back two hours. I then had two more flights. One from San Francisco to Houston and then another from Houston to Miami. I was delirious by the time I arrived around 11:30pm. I didn’t sleep on any of the planes, so I had been awake over 40 hours.

Welcome to beautiful Miami!

Welcome to beautiful Miami!

It took me a few days to adjust to the time difference. And understanding everything everyone around me was saying. That was the first big adjustment. The second was Miami. Miami isn’t really my home. My parents moved there after I had joined the Peace Corps. At least my Spanish is coming in handy. But the people down here are kind of pretentious and fake. Plastic surgery doctors are on every corner like Starbucks down here. I think half of the girls walking around are more silicone than flesh. And third, living with my parents. This was more of an adjustment than I thought it would be. I had gotten pretty used to flying solo in China. It is nice that the dishes and clothes magically get washed now, though.

My amazing parents.

My amazing parents.

And then, after I arrived, it felt like the momentum kind of stopped. One of the Washington Peace Corps guys got in touch with me and gave me all of the information I needed. I got set up with doctor’s appointments and everything, but other than waiting for those to happen, I haven’t had a whole lot to do. So, I’ve been busy being a tourist!

Tourist Stuff I’ve Done So Far

  • Spent a day at Miami Seaquarium, where my Dad is the Director of Food and Beverage. It was here that I…
Kissed a dolphin!

Kissed a dolphin! (After taking a ride holding on to her dorsal fin)

Went scuba diving in a fish tank with over 2,000 fish including barracuda, giant eels, and humongous groupers.

Went scuba diving in a fish tank with over 2,000 fish including barracuda, giant eels, and humongous groupers.

Saw a cute sea lion show

Saw a cute sea lion show

Saw Lolita, the killer whale, somehow heft her huge body out of the water. It was majestic.

Saw Lolita, the killer whale, somehow heft her huge body out of the water. It was majestic.

  • Went to Calle Ocho to celebrate the week of carnaval
Dale! Pitbull, where you at?!

Dale! Pitbull, where you at?! This paled in comparison to carnaval in Brazil.

  • Celebrated St. Patrick’s Day
Green wine and green tequila sunrise!

Green wine and green tequila sunrise!

  • Went down to South Beach on Saturday night and saw some real cartoons walking around. I think one woman didn’t even have any pants or underwear on!
  • Went snorkeling in Key Largo
  • Chilled at the beach and got a sunburnt nose
  • Went to a big, fancy Kiwanis gala event
  • Went kayaking and tried paddle boarding at Key Biscayne
  • Ate ALL THE DELICIOUS FOOD (sorry PC peeps):
TACO BELL

TACO BELL

CHEESE FO' DAYSSSZZZ

CHEESE FO’ DAYSSSZZZ

CHICKEN PARM

CHICKEN PARM

SALAHDZZZ

SALAHDZZZ

FIVE GUYZZZ

FIVE GUYZZZ

SUAN TANGGG (I made it for my parentals, but I don't think anyone will ever love it like I do)

SUAN TANGGG (I made it for my parentals, but I don’t think anyone will ever love it like I do)

  • Nomz that are not pictured here: Tacos, Cuban food, Chipotle, Curious Traveler Summer Shandy, Red Moscato, Sandwiches (with real bread, real mayo, and pickles), Cheez-its, Mountain Dew, Root Beer, Dr. Pepper, MILK, water FROM THE TAP, lemonade, chips & salsa, ice cream, etc.

So in summary, I’m just chilling in the US for 45 days until the docs can figure out what is wrong with me. If they can, then I’ll go back to China and everything will go back to normal! If not, I’ll stay in the US and be medically separated. Medical separation does not necessarily mean that I will be done with Peace Corps entirely though. If my medical problems are resolved within 12 months, I could request to be reinstated in China. I would hypothetically go back to Kaili and have the same apartment and everything.

Although honestly, as I’m sure you could tell by my last post, I’m a little fed up with China. It has been so rejuvenating being back in the United States. It’s so nice to understand EVERY aspect of what is going on around you. Even down to being able to get a glimpse into a person’s personality based on what they’re wearing. In China, I just always figured everyone around me was blind when dressing in the morning. Now, I can tell who is probably a college student (backpack, sweatpants, messy hair, college t-shirt), who works in a professional environment (briefcase, suit, hair slicked back), who probably has kids (stain on their shirt, I ❤ Mom keychain, wedding ring). It’s the little things like this that you don’t even think about until they’re gone. In China, I could see a woman whose age could be anywhere from 18 to 40 (I can’t tell, Asians age wonderfully) wearing a little cute backpack with a panda on it, a blazer, no wedding ring, and long curly hair. She could easily have been an 18 year old student, a 24 year old stay-at-home wife, or a 32 year old teacher. I literally never had any clue. Which was kind of cool, not pre-judging people. But it also took away a lot of basic social clues we have when choosing friends or creating social networks.

So whether I go back or not is still up in the air. I’ll have mixed feelings either way, but for now it’s just a waiting game. I’ll probably only post again once the decision has been finalized. If you want more details about my medevac or have any questions, feel free to private message me here, on facebook, or to shoot me an email! I’ll let you all know what’s going to happen as soon as I know!

Weeks 33, 34, 35, 36, & 37: Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos!

Before I get to the glorious details of my travel around Southeast Asia, let’s jump back to where I left off.

The week after IST and before my travels, I did as I had promised myself and became productive. I refinished a desk and the bed frame I found and painted them black!

Before

Before

After!

After!

Now isn't that better? Still needs a mattress though...

Now isn’t that better? Still needs a mattress though…

After feeling good about finally getting something concrete accomplished, it was time to go! I hit the road with only a backpack (and I don’t mean one of those huge traveling packs, I mean like a book bag backpack. It has a laptop pocket and everything. Which I used for shoes) and my purse. It was a long haul to get to Kunming (12 hours) where I met up with my friends Ward and Katie, who I would spend the whole trip traveling with, and our other friend Kelly.

At the airport - our before (bundled up for China's cold weather) and after photo! Ready for Bangkok!!!

At the airport – our before (bundled up for China’s cold weather) and after photo! Ready for Bangkok!!!

For your convenience (and my memory), I put together a map of our trip and where/how we went. Please see below!

Round, round, get around, I get around...

Round, round, get around, I get around…

We only spent two nights in Bangkok. As we left the airport and were getting to our hostel, I was immediately reminded of Brazil. The weather, being surrounded by beautiful people, and the smell. My first impression of Bangkok was that it was CLEAN. A fantastic change from China’s disgusting streets.

We checked into our hostel and got situated and then went exploring on Bangkok’s metro system. We ended up at a night market and we walked around for a long while. Sketchy little Thai men kept telling us to go see the ping pong show! Eventually, we went to check it out. We walked up these narrow stairs into a small, dark strip club. As I got to the top, I looked over to see only the back side of a woman, as she was bent over, and she was honking a bicycle horn using her feminine parts. At first I laughed and we got out of that dingy place pretty fast. But later, as I was reflecting on it, I realized how degrading and awful it was. And the fact that Bangkok tourism helps support such a sexist, objectifying industry is depressing. We never did see the ping pong show, but I’m sure I can take a wild guess at what it entailed.

In any case, we were all pretty tired that first night from our travels, so we headed to bed early. The next morning, we went exploring in the streets and found REAL coffee. Using espresso beans and everything. It was so delicious – they used condensed milk to sweeten it and it was so amazing. We ate at a noodle place (not my favorite, but not terrible). Our friend Taylor met up with us later and we all went on a boat tour of Bangkok!

We're on a boat!

We’re on a boat!

We stopped at a random temple, we went in to where the largest resting Buddha was, but it was kind of expensive, so we didn’t go in, and we made it to the outside of the Grand Palace. As far as sightseeing goes, I felt that Bangkok was kind of lacking. But once again, what do I know – we didn’t really go in anything to fully check it out.

Later that night, we hit up a food court in a mall that served Thai food. I ate Tom Yum (delicious) and had mango with sweet sticky rice for desert (also delicious). We went back down to the night market and walked around for a while. We were waiting for Katie’s friend, Kelsey, to get in from America. She had gotten a really nice hotel and we thought we could all stay there, but 2 was the limit. So Ward, Taylor, and I decided we would just stay up all night since our bus to Cambodia left at 6am anyway.

It ended up being a pretty interesting night. We headed to the Red Light District – the only part of Bangkok still awake. We walked around. Some of the men there disgusted me. But in general, the working girls/ladyboys seemed pretty happy to be there – who knows if it was all a facade though. We spent a couple hours there drinking beer and then were meandering to another part of town when we found a Mexican place open where we could eat unlimited chips and salsa. So, we stayed there until it was time to head back to the hotel. I don’t think chips and salsa have ever been so amazing.

The next day was hell. Partially because we were exhausted and partially because it was a whole day stuck in buses, mini-vans, and tuk tuks. From Bangkok, we took a mini-van to a city called Trot, “near” the Thailand/Cambodia border. We then had to take an hour and a half tuk tuk ride to the border.

In the back of the covered truck, or tuk tuk

In the back of the covered truck, or tuk tuk

Finally, once we got to the border, the government officials tried to scam us twice (once by trying to make us pay U$D20 for a “medical check” and trying to tell us the visa was more expensive than it was supposed to be). We finally got through, though. Once we were in Cambodia, we had to get ANOTHER mini-van to take us to Sihanoukville, our beach destination in Cambodia. That was another 7 hours.

Once we FINALLY arrived and got checked into our hostel, which was on the beach, we went back into the city. Sihanoukville was packed with foreigners. There were probably more foreigners around that Cambodians. Normally, I might have felt jipped of a cultural experience or something, but it was a really nice change from being so isolated in China. There was also Western food abound along the streets! We feasted like kings.

We eventually headed down to the bar area near the beach – it was awesome. It was just a row of bars along the beach and every one offered a free shot or drink just for going in. The very last bar was more of a dance club with huge speakers set up out in the sand and little stage. So we danced the night away on the beach and had a great time.

The next morning, needless to say, we woke up late and spent the whole afternoon on the beach. It was so relaxing. And I didn’t get sunburned!

<3

The second night, we went back into the city, but called it an early night. And then our last morning, we again spent on the beach and then left in the afternoon to head to Phnom Penh!

When we got to Phnom Penh I couldn’t believe all of the Chinese everywhere! But apparently Phnom Penh is the economic center of Cambodia. We got there late and headed out for the night – another night of shenanigans. The next day, I went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

I want to take a minute and talk about this seriously. Before I had traveled to Cambodia, I had never even heard about the genocide that occurred here in the 1970’s – so I hope you, as my readers, will take this moment to learn from my ignorance.

Let me explain – in the 1970’s, a communist group called the Khmer Rouge and their leader, Pol Pot, took over Cambodia. They shut down schools across the country to limit education. This particular school I visited, which is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, was turned into one of the most notorious detention centers in Cambodia, previously called simply S-21. Of the 20,000 prisoners, only 7 survived.

Wooden cells built in a classroom

Wooden cells built in a classroom

The Khmer Rouge targeted intellectuals, religious leaders, ethnic Vietnamese, civil servants, and anyone else they considered a threat. They would not only take the individual, but their entire family. They would take children and infants and beat them against a tree until they died because bullets were too precious to waste. They would torture and beat the adults, washing their wounds with salt water, and repeat until they starved to death or were executed.

The Khmer Rouge, like most deranged leaders of genocide, kept countless records on their prisoners. The museum had hundreds of photos of the prisoners in various states of declining health. The museum also had the original torture devices on display.

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And in the last room, they had hundreds of bones. Human bones. Fragments from skulls, tibiae, femurs. It was terrifying. I wouldn’t call myself a very emotional person, but I was in silent tears walking through this museum. I guess standing in a cell where, just under 50 years ago, another person was crying out of hopelessness and fear after being tortured can do that to a person. I imagined if it had been my family being taken and the paralyzing terror of not knowing where you were being taken or what would happen to you. And then the desperation of wanting it all to end once had been tortured repeatedly and the rest of your family had been killed.

And then the fact that I had no idea any of this had happened really got to me. Where was this in my history classes? I had to learn all about the god damn Missouri Compromise, but where was this? Where was the section on how 1.5 million Cambodians either starved to death or were executed in a four year period from 1975 – 1979? And what makes this any less significant than the genocide that occurred during WWII? The fact that the US wasn’t involved didn’t make it worthy of learning about? But that’s why I’m writing about it here and now. Hopefully someone will read this and learn something new today.

In 1979 a Vietnamese army came in and ousted the Khmer Rouge. But their leader, Pol Pot, died much later (1998 if I remember correctly) comfortably in his home, never having been brought to justice.

After the visit to the museum, I was feeling pretty solemn – we all were. So we just slept and used the WiFi at the hostel until our overnight bus came to pick us up.

We arrived in Siem Reap very early in the morning, so we had to wait to check into our hostel until later in the morning. That afternoon, we explored the neighborhood. Ward and I got Cambodian massages – which are pretty intimate. They climbed on top of me, wrapped their leg around my leg, and used their feet to massage my leg. But it felt pretty amazing.

That night, we went down to “pub street” nearby which was also kind of like a night market with little shops selling touristy stuff. Once again, the Western food wasn’t lacking. We ate dinner with some fellow China PCVs we met up with at a restaurant that had a free traditional Cambodia Apsara Dance. (Sorry for the crappy video quality!)

I loved how the dance was so focused on movements in the hands and feet. It was something so unique and that I’d never seen before. We had set up a tuk tuk driver to take us to Angkor Wat the next morning to see the sunrise, so we didn’t want to stay out too late.

We got up bright and early to head to Angkor Wat. We secured spots very close to the lake and just waited around. It was PACKED with tourists. But that didn’t take too much from the beautiful sight of watching the sun rise over the ancient temple.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

We tried to outsmart the other tourists and once the sun was fully up, we went to the second temple on the “temple route”, Angkor Thom. The second one wasn’t as impressive. The third one we went to was called Ta Prohm and it was my favorite. The temple was slightly in ruins and had large trees growing over the rubble of the formerly majestic temple. There were also less “off limits” areas in the temple, so I felt like and adventurer. No wonder they shot parts of Tomb Raider at this temple!

DSC01197

I was basically Lara Croft for a day

I was basically Lara Croft for a day

Later, we went back to Angkor Wat. As clever as we thought we were, it was still packed with tourists. Angkor Wat was huge. There were holes in the stones, which I later found out they used to tie rope through and tie to elephants to haul the huge stones to the site. And the walls had such intricate carvings. We climbed to the top of the temple and it was beautiful.

I'm in there - can you see me?!

I’m in there – can you see me?!

We were all pretty exhausted after seeing temples all day – it was a lot of walking. We spent the afternoon by the hostel’s pool. That night, I bought a bunch of souvenirs and later, we met up with some other China PCV’s and had a glorious Mexican dinner, complete with margaritas and a night of dancing.

The next morning, we kept it pretty low key and ate some delicious Indian food. Our flight left that afternoon to go to Laos.

Off to Laos!

Off to Laos!

Due to a booking error, Ward, Kelsey, and Katie ended up going to Luang Praban for a night on an overnight layover and I flew directly to Vientiane. So I got there alone. Thankfully, I’m resourceful. I found another guy heading to the same hostel as me and we split a cab.

I explored a little bit, but not much. My first impression of Vientiane was not a positive one. It seemed kind of trashy and not very well kept. There was a definite French influence though, from Laos’ days of being a French colony, I would assume. I found a restaurant called Via Via and ate, no exaggeration, the most delicious lasagna of my entire life. Reminiscing about it now is making my mouth water. The rest of my crew arrived the next morning. They agreed with my initial impression and we decided to leave later that afternoon. But with the little time we had (6 hours, I think?), we saw a lot.

We went to Vientiane’s Pha That Luang temple.

Pha That Luang

Pha That Luang

Then we went to the COPE Visitor Center. Once again, I’d like to take a moment to share this experience, as I was unaware of this piece of history before visiting the COPE Center. During the Vietnam war, the US covertly sent millions of bombs to Laos to stop supplies from getting to Vietnam. Of these millions of bombs, 30% never exploded. So in Laos, still, to this day, there are unexploded bombs. Thousands of innocent people have lost either their lives or limbs to unexploded ordance (or UXO). The COPE Visitor Center is located on a hospital campus and helps provide funding for victims of UXO to receive prosthetic limbs and healthcare. Fortunately, cluster bombs, the kind of bomb that was used, is a thing of the past. But it still doesn’t make all of those lost lives and limbs any less tragic or forgivable on behalf of the US.

A map of the bombings in Laos

A map of the bombings in Laos

A recreation of a cluster bomb - all of those small bombs are encased in a large missile that releases them mid-air.

A recreation of a cluster bomb – all of those small bombs are encased in a large missile that releases them mid-air.

Homemade prosthetic legs that were donated to the center by UXO victims after they were provided an authentic prosthetic leg.

Homemade prosthetic legs that were donated to the center by UXO victims after they were provided an authentic prosthetic leg.

I donated what little money I could, feeling the guilt and embarrassment of being American heavily. We left the center and went to find something to eat. We had Vietnamese Pho, which was okay, and then headed back to get on our bus.

Our next stop was Vang Vieng. I think it was my favorite city out of all of our travels. I had a great time there and really liked the vibe. We got to there in the evening. We checked in and then went to explore. We went out that night – I got a free shirt for buying two drinks at one of the bars.

The next morning, we rented bicycles and rode out into the countryside. We went to a blue lagoon – which truly was blue. The water was bluer than any I’ve seen in my life. There was a tree you could climb up to jump in and swim. We stayed there for a little while.

Then we went and got lunch at a special restaurant called the SAE Lao Project. It was located out in the countryside on a farm. Actually, it’s a program that accepts international volunteers to live and work with them. The volunteers teach English to monks and help with their organic farm, planting and growing vegetables, etc. They also promote sustainability within the community. And their food was really tasty! (For more information on the SAE Lao Project, please go HERE!)

We continued biking around the countryside and stopped off at another little swimming pond with a great view of the mountains. We went swimming for a while and drank some beers and just relaxed after biking all day. We had seen a sign for a cave across the road, so after we rested up, we went in. We started climbing up to the cave and a little Lao guy started following us. I think he only knew about 3 English words (yeah, no, and photo). I wasn’t sure why he was going with us at first, but once we got inside the cave, I knew why. It was small and felt unexplored. Obviously, I’m sure many tourists had gone in there, but it was still scary and dark. We crawled through a tiny tunnel and came out on the other side.

Cave Explorers

Cave Explorers

Our guide even showed us a huge scar on his stomach where he mimed that he fell down into the cave. It was crazy. There was also a spider as big as my head on the ceiling of the cave. Once I saw that, I knew it was time to go.

We went back to the pond and took some pictures and snapped this fabulous candid photo of Ward, Katie, and I. This might be my favorite photo from the whole trip.

Best travel crew eva'

Best travel crew eva’

We eventually got back to the city. I ate tomato soup and a baguette. Oh! I forgot – all over Laos and most of Cambodia – there were SO MANY baguettes. I couldn’t get enough. Real bread is so hard to come by in China. For breakfast every morning, it was either a baguette and butter and jelly or a baguette with ham and fresh tomatoes and cucumber.

I also loved that at every hostel/restaurant on the main street, they had chair/beds and tables instead of traditional ones. You could lay back and relax and eat or watch TV (every single place had Friends on. I have no idea what the obsession was)

Chillin'.

Chillin’.

We hung out until our overnight bus left later that night to take us to Luang Prabang. I was really sad to leave. I had really wanted to go tubing, but we just didn’t have time for it. I really enjoyed all of the time out in the country exploring and taking nature in.

We get in the tuk tuk to go to where the bus was and then there was a huge fiasco. The overnight SLEEPER bus we had bought turned into a typical seated bus. We were all exhausted from our adventures and were pissed off that we had bought a sleeper bus to get put into a regular bus. Some guy tried to explain that the other bus broke down and this was all he could do. I asked him if we would each at least get two seats to ourself and he said yes. We all reluctantly got on the bus. As time went on, more and more people started getting onto the bus. One of the other passengers and I got into a huge argument on the bus over seats (tensions were high and everyone had bought sleeper tickets and didn’t get a sleeper bus) and finally, I just said to hell with it and got off. My friend Kelsey couldn’t get off because her flight back to the US left the next day in the afternoon and she couldn’t risk missing it by getting off. I thought I’d be trekking alone, but Ward got off with me. We got refunds and got back to the city. We thought about it and decided the whole thing was a scam. On a typical sleeper bus, you can fit about 25 people. There were probably at least 40 people on that bus. There is no way the real sleeper bus “broke down”. Otherwise, they would have only had 25 people show up. So I was angry, but happy that at least my money wasn’t going to support those scammers. Thankfully, there was another bus that left a little bit later and we got to Luang Prabang the next morning.

We explored the city a little bit and got some great food called Lap. It was finely diced, almost ground, chicken with fresh lime, lemongrass, mint, green onions, and other herbs and spices and you eat it in a lettuce wrap. It was amazing. Then we said goodbye to Kelsey as she went off to go back to the US.

The rest of the afternoon, we went to Kuang Si waterfalls. It was beautiful! I’d never seen a waterfall in person before. I really wanted to go explore under/behind it, but it was all roped off. The grounds Kuang Si waterfalls was on was also a bear reserve.

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Later that night, we went to the night market and bought our tour for the next day! We ended up at a bar called Utopia which was really cool. It was all outdoors and it was right on the river.

Utopia & heart to hearts.

Utopia & heart to hearts.

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One of the cluster bombs on display at Utopia.

But we called it an early night because, in the morning, we got up early to take a boat to a whiskey village. In the village, they made their own whiskey, which we got to try. There were two types, clear, or “white”, and red – both made from rice. The red whiskey was actually pretty good – sweet and not too strong. The clear whiskey reminded me an awful lot of baijiu and burned on the way down.

The village also had quite a few girls and women at looms and making scarves. I saw this little girl working at the loom and couldn’t help but by a handmade scarf from her.

DSC01488

The boat next took us to the Pak Ou Buddha Cave. It was immensely overcrowded, especially by annoying tourists, and not that amazing. There were just two caves full of Buddha statues.

Buddhas for days

Buddhas for days

So we headed back to the boat and it took us back to town. Katie and Ward had to head out earlier than me, so I was there a little while on my own. After they left, I met two Swiss girls and befriended them. We got dinner together at a French restaurant and chatted. I ordered French cheesy potatoes, thinking they would be like the kind my Dad makes (AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS), but they were just okay.

The next day, I went kayaking on the Mekong River! Since I was alone, I got paired up with a Lao kayak guide. I had never been kayaking before and I really, really enjoyed it. And I made a friend!

My buddy

My buddy

We kayaked for a while, stopped off for a photo op…

Peace, Love, Travel

Peace, Love, Travel

and then went to the next portion of the tour – elephant riding and bathing! I was pretty excited! I got paired with a couple of girls from Chile. The elephant took us down into the river and was spraying us with water from his trunk.

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The elephant sat down in the water and I almost fell off!

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Everything was going great, but then we saw the Lao worker using an elephant hook and hitting the elephant to get it to go back up to the elephant site. We all yelled at the worker to stop using it, which he did, but he started again as soon as we got off. I felt like a bad person for having supported a place that still uses elephant hooks and exploits elephants pretty shamelessly, but I guess it’s better than having them be killed or exploited worse somewhere else. They didn’t have any open sores or cuts on them, but the elephant hook still seemed primitive.

We headed back to the city, I showered and waited. The kayak guy and I had made plans to meet up for beers later that night. I figured the night would either be a really fun, authentic Laos experience, or I’d end up dead in a ditch or worse. But I had gotten a good vibe from this guy. He picked me up and we ate some buffalo and bean sprouts with a side of bamboo soup first. Not my first choice, but apparently it is renowned in Laos. Then we headed to a bar where I was the ONLY foreigner. And that was pretty cool. The music they were playing was fun and I got to watch all of the Laos people dancing and having a good time. He took me back to my hostel early and it ended up being the fun, authentic Laos experience I had wanted. And I definitely wasn’t dead in a ditch.

The next day I relaxed all day, ate pizza and Indian food, drank more amazing coffee, and read a book until my 24-hour sleeper bus back into China to Kunming the next morning. I got on the bus and I had forgotten how rude Chinese people could be. That bus was a hell worse than any I’ve known so far. It left really early, about 6am. I was put in a double bed, but no one was put with me. I was so stoked! Those beds are so short and I’m so tall. But with the full bed, I could lay diagonally and my legs could be straight! So I fell asleep.

I was rudely awakened by some random girl crawling into my bed and pulling the blanket off of me onto herself. I was immediately pissed off. So I tried asking her in Chinese what she was doing. I was asleep, so I thought maybe more passengers got on the bus, but that didn’t make sense because we weren’t stopped. I figure out she moved from another bed to my bed and she wasn’t supposed to be there. So I start yelling at her in any language I think she’ll understand to get out of my bed. I said Go, qu, zuo, bye bye, zaijian, anything I thought she could figure out. But she wouldn’t budge. Finally, I just sat up in the bed and resorted to glaring at her. She got the hint and got out and moved into someone else’s bed. At the time I didn’t know what she was doing or why.

About an hour later, we stopped for a bathroom – and when I say bathroom, I mean side of the road, and I heard yelling. Apparently, the same girl that had tried to get in my bed had thrown up all over everyone’s shoes and bags that were on the floor of the bus. No wonder she wanted to move. There was hollering until she finally went back and cleaned it up.

Another hour or so later, we stopped and more people got on the bus and I finally had to share with a young girl. She was okay. But then as I was drifting off to sleep, I smelled cigarette smoke. There was an older guy that had just lit up a cigarette on the bus. On the enclosed bus. Among 25 other human beings that had to deal with it. The rudeness and ignorance of some Chinese people is just astonishing. Some woman had a chance to yell at him before I did, thank goodness for him. I was at a breaking point. Like I said, the bus ride back was hell.

The bus from hell.

The bus from hell.

I fell asleep on the bus and woke up to an empty bus. Apparently, everyone had gotten off and no one had bothered to wake me up! But it didn’t matter, I got on the metro, got to the train station, and got tickets back to Kaili. All of this was during the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year. I magically got the last sleeper bed from Kunming to Guiyang, but had no seat back to Kaili. I got back to Kaili at 5am and went straight to sleep.

So I’ve been back in Kaili for about 2 weeks now. It’s been pretty rough being back in China. Having seen three other Asian countries, I can’t comprehend why China hasn’t figured out baguettes, lime, coffee, cheese, being friendly, being clean, forming lines, the list is endless. Before going outside of China, I thought that all of Asia suffered the same problems. But now I know that simply isn’t the case. And it makes me even more bitter and angry at China for not opening its mind to manners and at the very least, foods. I realize it isn’t every single Chinese person that acts like this, but from my experience living here, I know it is the majority. I just hope someday they’ll understand how much easier and pleasant life is with a bit of civility. I realize this is pretty intense criticism, but I’m at a point where I just need to say it without a filter.

My first week of classes is already over too! I wasn’t sure before, but I have the same students from last semester. That has some pros and cons. I already know all of the students and their names, who the stronger students are and who the weaker students are, and the class dynamic is already set. But it also means I have to come up with completely new lesson plans. Which is an awful lot of work.

In any case – this weekend is my birthday! On March 8, I’ll be 26. I’m heading to Duyun to see my lovely friend Ward. He has the best birthday gift you could give someone that likes to cook in China – a microwave! And carpets! I think my bff Jordan is coming too. I’ll be spending my birthday with my two favorite people in Peace Corps and I couldn’t be happier.

But turning 26 has gotten me thinking a lot about the timeline of my life. I still want to go to grad school. Settle down. Get married. Have a few years just being married. Have kids. But I feel like by the time I’m done with Peace Corps, finish grad school, settle down etc. I’m going to be like 35 or something and I don’t want to be that old when I start having children. I’ve honestly been feeling really stressed out about my whole experience here, but I suppose it’s best to just take it a day at a time.

After this weekend with my besties, the next Guizhou meet-up is March 21 for St. Patrick’s Day and I’m really looking forward to that. I’ll also be helping my friend, Yann, with a special project that I’m also really looking forward to and you should keep an eye out for in the coming weeks.

Other than looking forward to future events, I’m just trying to lesson plan and get ready for the coming semester and adjust back to life in China again. On that note, I’ll leave you with a Happy Chinese New Year message we shot in Sihanoukville for my students: