Curacao – February 2015

It has been a while since I’ve travelled and this post is long overdue.

Literally a day after my 27th birthday I did laundry, packed my clothes and took a flight down to Wilemstad, Curacao in the Dutch Antilles for one week in part to visit an old friend.

The island is paradise. The city is a popular dock for cruise ships and features a canal with a floating pedestrian bridge which was kind of awesome to see. I wouldn’t recommend going there as a one-off destination because you could get a lot more bang for your buck visitng it on a cruise.

It’s a very expensive place but visiting Mischa was worth it. Catching up over drinks in Punda and at the beach was the highlight of my trip. Next was meeting a buch of new people. When i arrived at the airport on the first night I knew not one soul and Meesh was unable to meet me at the airport which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Most of the passengers on my flight ahd already gone to their accomodations except for one when I arrived from Miami late on Feb 9th. I stood outisde of the small airport and walked right up to a random and said hi. Tilisay was her name. She kindly asked her ride to take me to the nearest airport hotel where I later learned was also her mother’s workplace.

The next two days were awesome as she took me around the tourist towns and to her Spanish classes at the University of Curacao. In her small class managed to meet the cousin of Gold Glove Atlanta Braves Shortstop Andrelton Simmons  – Curacao has produced some outstanding pro baseball players (Andruw Jones, Jurickson Profar). I rented a car and perused the island. To save money I rented one with a manual transmission. Not knowing how to drive, I took lessons on the fly from Tilisay. She was so patient and kind with me and I literally learned in a day as we drove around town. I stalled several times in traffic but by the next day I was driving 100 km across the country to Westpunt beach where I witnessed the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in my life and went snorkelling with some savvy young local entrepreneurs observing some amazing spiderfish and other tropical sea creatures.

Towrads the end of my stay I observed caribbean carnival and made a few friends including a gorgeous girl named Leticia who is very ambitious and keen on studying in Canada.

Overall the beauty of the island is unmatched. There are posh beaches that look like Miama’s South Beach (minus the condos in the backdrop) and beaches that are secluded and fairly untounched.

Pictures to come soon.!

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With mom on my bday who told me to book the ticket that night leaving the next day! Wouldn’t habve gone without you

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the homie

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made some new friends, these guys were amazing young entrepreneurs

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i spent a lot of time in this Kia (shout out to Korea!) the car i learned how to drive standard in

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Kanepa, West Punt, Cuaracao …a truly beautiful beach!!!

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She’s a dime piece!

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Played some bball at the local university

Played some bball at the local university

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17 Hour Great Wall Stopover – Beijing 2013

1. My academy kindly booked my return flight home through Beijing so i didn’t have to pay for this flight out of pocket. I was so excited to end my first solo travel experience on such a good note. I flew in from Korea at roughly 8pm then departed the next day around 2pm.

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2. I didn’t have time to do much. Seeing the Great Wall was a must-do. Every traveller to Beijing should know this: if you’re staying in Beijing for less than 48 hours then you no longer need to apply in advance for an expensive visa (it might be more or less time look it up online). You simply see the immigration officer upon arrival and go to the line that issues temporary entry visas. It was awesome that i didn’t have to pay extra for this too.

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3. That night I took a taxi to the Days Inn hotel near the airport. Considering my 17 hour time constraint and infamous Beijing traffic I called for a private Anglophone driver in advance of the trip (If you want his contact just ask). He charged me a flat rate for the days excursion. He picked me up at my hotel around 4:30am. He also picked up a friend of mine, Eunji, along the way. She’s a dear friend I met in Korea who is studying in Beijing. He escorted us to breakfast which he generously paid for.

4. Then, off we went to the Great Wall at Badaling. We saw the sun rise, prayed and enjoyed the scenery at 6am when you could hear a pin drop because nobody was there. Yes, nobody was there, not even the entrance clerks which means we were able to bypass the entrance fee altogether. It was fantastic!

5. My time in Beijing concluded with seeing a nice monument park on the way to the airport and subsequent lunch with Eunji!

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I wish I got to see the Olympic facilities, but I can’t argue with how perfectly things went during my Beijing stopover.

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More Travels: Cambodia in a Nutshell

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My travels in March 2013 concluded with 4 days in Cambodia and 17 hours in Beijing** read my next post on how to see the Great Wall on a budget during an airport lay-over (stop-over).

Cambodia

1. I flew into Cambodia from Singapore. Met a Canadian fellow on the plane who happened to be studying on exchange. He was from Waterloo, ON the home of Blackberry. Though I was apprehensive to travel solo, I met many new people along the way. In hindsight I would totally travel solo again!

2. I really wanted to see Cambodia because of the Tomb Raider movie and the outstanding reviews about the ancient Khmer ruins we’ve all seen photos of. When I arrived in Siem Reap, I paid an entry tax (be prepared for that if you go) and bought US dollars because Cambodian currency isn’t widely used. Then I met my wonderful tour guide Kanha Reath of Angkor Journeys. (www.angkorjourneys.com) She escorted me to a traditional Cambodian homestay in her hometown just outside the city where I met her mother, sister, aunt, niece and nephew.

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3. Our friendly tuk-tuk driver was included in her tour package. He escorted us through the village to watch the sunset from the rice fields nearby. The scenery was breathtaking. She briefly demonstrated to me how rice crops are cut, collected and harvested. She prepared snacks for us to eat as we watched the sunset. 

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4. That night we ate a fantastic dinner with her family. Be sure to eat Bamboo rice! and palm tree fruit. Yum!! 

 

 

5. The next morning, we went on a full-day tour of the three main tombs of Angkor Wat which was an unforgettable experience. Then, we watched the sun go down over Angkor Wat after a steady hike up a low mountain.That night, we had dinner at a buffet and watched a traditional Cambodian dance and concert.

 

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6. On day 3, we took a car (not a tuk-tuk this time) to a lake to see houses on stilts and a floating village. It was remarkable to see children rowing boats to their floating academy.  

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7. Later that day we continued on a 2 hour drive to see the remains of another empire. Kahna had a number of great stories and details about each destination.

8. My last day in Cambodia was a 4 hour ATV tour of the countryside. Check for it on Trip Advisor, my host’s name was Visal.  

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9. If you do go to Cambodia, be compassionate, give generously and tip well. My heart was moved while I was there. There’s a lot of poverty and low-income living. I bought whatever I could just to support vendors and kids, even if I didn’t need it. 1 USD goes a long way over there. Also, try not to participate in voluntourism, or at least do so wisely. But do donate school supplies to orphans if that’s where your heart is. 

I’ve now been to US, Jamaica, Korea, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Cambodia. Cambodia is easily the best travel experience I’ve ever had! 

 

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6 Countries in 12 days

My flights are booked. I’m ready to go! On March 2, I leave Korea to travel to the Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, China and back home to Canada on March 13. This is a very ambitious trip in a short period of time for any solo traveller. I’m up for the challenge. I’ll be CouchSurfing for most of the trip. Stay tuned for details about things I did, how much I spent and amazing photos of my adventures. Honestly, after working so hard in Korea, I’m really just looking forward to resting on a beach in Boracay with a book and a guitar. Visit my blog again in one month’s time. 

What’s the cost of living in Gwangju, Korea?

Being an ESL teacher in Korea will enable you to allocate a lot of your income to personal savings. This is because you will have a lot of disposable income not having to pay rent or high sales taxes.

I did some grocery shopping today then remembered how much I wondered about the cost of living here before I arrived. I did an annual budget before I came, but later learned that things are more expensive here than anticipated. Here’s a breakdown of the prices of a few things I routinely spend money on. I hope it helps. Because I think in dollars and not Korean Won, I will list the costs in dollars assuming a 1000won:1dollar ratio.

Transportation

Bus to Seoul, Incheon, Busan: $25.00

KTX Train to major cities: $25-$35

Bus fare:                 $1.20 

Taxi ride downtown: $8 – $10 

Taxi ride to the nearest Home Plus: $4.00 (one way) 

Taxi ride to the nearest Lotte Mart: $2.50 (one way)

Taxi ride to work (only during rainy weather): $2.30

*Taxi fare starts at $2.20

Groceries

Eggs (30 pack): $4.50

Bread (white): $2.50 full loaf

Bread (whole wheat/grain): 2.50 half loaf

Chicken Breast Boneless, Skinless (800g): $8.00

Chicken (800-1000g): $6.50

Tuna (3 pack): $7.00

Meat here is expensive. Only pork and fish which I haven’t included here, are modestly cheaper. I dont know how to prepare fish too well and pork is too unhealthy to eat when I’m not feasting with Koreans.

Peanut Butter (500g): $6.50

Strawberry Jam (300g): $4.50 

The price of fruit varies depending on whether it’s in season

Bananas (250g): $3.20

Berries-frozen, 1kg (strawberry, blueberries, triple berry blend): $11.00

Lettuce (100g): $1.50 

These prices are big mart prices. Produce is usually cheaper at the smaller independent grocers. Meat is also slightly cheaper but with less selection and at a lower grade.

— I buy frozen berries because the standard packages are too expensive when out of season. They also last longer and are great for blending.

Water, 6 pack, 2L: $3.50

Soy Milk, 1L: $2.30

Cereal: $5.00 and up

Pasta: $3.00  

Whole wheat pasta: $3.50 

Ketchup: $5.00

Olive Oil, 900 ml: $8.00

Brown rice, 1kg: $8.00

Chinese Dumplings (Mandu): $4.50

Oreo Cookies (8 cookies): $1.50 

Ritz crackers (8 large cheese filled crackers): $1.80

Godlfish crackers: $6.00

Pringles: $3.50

Utilities/Living Expenses

Gas: $30 or less per month which is cheap but i’ve never had to pay more than $60 a month on utilities. I’m convinced my hogwan is embezzling from their foreign teachers and calling it ‘tax’ but I’ll say more about that later. Bills show up and pile up in my mailbox after months, then just disappear but no more or no less is deducted from my monthly salary. Maintenance fee is $10. Electricity and Water are $20 roughly. All in all utilities have been cheap.

Internet: $40

Smart phone bill (DO NOT USE THE ARRIVAL STORE): $80-$100 per month. I know. I’m crazy for paying that much for a phone bill. On a 2 year contract you will pay only $50 to $70 per month. People usually sign a contract then sell it to a friend. 

Guitar: $200, I bought a nice one here

PS3: $350 including a game, I sold it though

Electric heater: $40

Movie Ticket: $8.00

Restaurants: a satisfying dinner is roughly $5.00-$12.00 anywhere

Happy New Year: Resolutions

In 2013 I resolve to follow through on all of my resolutions. I figure making them public will keep me accountable, even if it’s only for my own satisfaction and never read by anyone at all. My resolutions are in 4 categories:  Specific, General, Short-Term and Long-Term. I make them each year to give myself a purpose. Like most people, I’m very goal oriented and generally driven by broad and short-term goals. Though I’m a procrastinator who’s very hard on himself, I’ve learned that in order to achieve my goals I should be patient with myself if a short-term goal becomes long term due to unexpected burdens or circumstances. I trust that when God delays a desire of mine, He does not necessarily deny it’s manifestation in my life. 

Here they are in no particular order (although they could be):

a. Make my relationship with Christ more of a priority

(Colossians 1:17) “And He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.”

There are many practical ways for me to do this. Pray. Fast. Read. This goal makes my list every year because ever since I was 18 I had a desire to be a better Christian. It has been my life’s most difficult challenge. This desire to prioritize the God that died for my sins has been fading, yet everyday I’m aware that Christ alone is is the laminin holding my life together. 

b. Travel to Beijing

I want to see the Great Wall of China

c. Volunteer somewhere in South America

I’ve wanted to go to the continent ever since I was studying Political Science as an undergrad at McMaster. I had a wonderful Chilean professor who was once a political prisoner and subsequent refugee. It just seems like a fascinating place to explore. Ideally I’d like to work with animals there at a conservatory.  I’m considering this one. http://www.merazonia.org/

 c. Learn French

This will take years, but I’m up for the challenge. Living in Korea has fed my desire to resume studies of my country’s second official language.

d. Live in Quebec

In order to expedite the learning process, I’m considering a move to Quebec in 2013 to study French full-time. This means going back to school, but it’s an investment what will expand my job prospects in the future. l’Universite Laval in Quebec City or Universite de Montreal are probably the best choices. 

e. Write the LSAT

This will be the first goal accomplished in 2013 as I will write the test in February.

f. Apply to a Canadian Law School

For years this is something I’ve wanted to do. However it just seems so daunting, like a mountain too steep to climb without excellent credentials. I plan to attend a school in Toronto, Vancouver or Ottawa.

g. Take Classical Guitar Lessons

This is a very specific goal. I taught myself how to play guitar 2 years ago but my skills have quickly plateaued. I hope to become a good fingerstyle guitarist one day. Lessons will help a lot.

h. Learn How to Swim

A must-do this year.

i. Read More

I didn’t do enough of this in 2012 and my vocabulary needs improvement. I’ll read less sports and more Economist, Scientific American and novels. I resolve to read one novel each month.

j. Go to a Tropical Beach With White Sand

Maybe I’ll go to Thailand or the Philippines before I go back to Canada. Maybe I’ll find a beach in South America if I volunteer there for 2 months. Who knows.

k. Get a Job

In this economy, that’s easier said than done.

I have 11 goals for 2013. Some will be accomplished within 12 months and others will be set in motion for long term achievement. I’m up for the challenges that await ahead.