Monday, August 30, 2010

Montage Monday: New York City

A new feature on Connvoyage, a 3 photo montage highlighting the best memories from my past travels! Enjoy!

Busking in NYC is never too passionate, never too moving and never too boring (well, except maybe that one-man band). This classical Spanish guitar player was amazing! Never before could I believe that a singer on the subway stop could evoke such emotion in me.

Chinatown in NYC is always a special treat for me. Yes, it's smelly and dirty but there's so much life and activity going on! The food is cheap but out of this world. Chinatown can be an assault to some of your senses, but it certainly doesn't take away from the delights it can also bring to your other ones.

Times Square has a bad reputation. It's hectic and a hassle to get around. The throngs of tourists make it near impossible to take 5 steps without getting bumped into. It's crowded and over-commercialized. Yes, it is all that but what we fail to remember is that Times Square is essentially NYC in condensed form and it can be awe-inspiring. I remember my first time walking through Times Square. I was completely dumbfounded by all the lights, activity and people in the area. It really was amazing. After awhile, Times Square lost its appeal and I avoided it at all costs. However, the few times I did find myself walking through it again, I was reminded of why I love NYC so much. The city itself IS crowded and hectic, but isn't that part of why we love NYC?

© Connie Hum 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Farewell Kids, Farewell Volunteering

For my last day volunteering at the GHRE Pakarang Learning Center, a farewell celebration was given to Matt and I for the time we had spent there. It was a bittersweet day as I played games with my young students and gave them tearful goodbyes. I am going to miss them tremendously!

***Permission to use the photographs below have been granted by GHRE***

Some students modeling the animal face masks I helped them make.

Matt and the "Little Big Man" on campus.

Blowing up balloons for the farewell party.

My shyest and my giggliest students.

Teaching the students how to play Jenga. They loved it!

I made the kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so that they could try some "American" food. It received mixed reviews.

Heartfelt speeches were made that brought tears to my eyes.

Two of my third graders demonstrating the English speaking skills they learned from me. Too bad no one caught this on video!

The sweet kids gave me goodbye gifts. One boy gave me bright neon pink nail polish!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time volunteering with GHRE and the kids truly made my time there worth-while and so rewarding. I plan to come back to GHRE and visit the children again sometime soon. I mean, how can I not? They are absolutely PRECIOUS!

© Connie Hum 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

5 Reasons To Feel Homesick

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE TO TRAVEL. There's something thrilling and exciting about finding myself lost in a foreign country, trying to make my way around, learning about the language, people, food and culture. Still, (and I think most travelers out there will agree with me) once in awhile I feel a pang of homesickness creep in, taking hold just when I least expect it. I could be walking into a national museum, taking a ferry across to some small, remote island or searching for a local restaurant to eat dinner when BANG! I long for something simple and familiar. Something to remind me of home.

Other times, the life of a constant traveler can get frustrating and the creature comforts of being home is like a beacon calling me back to "normal" life.

Here are the top reasons I start feeling homesick while traveling.
  1. Hot showers. It's pouring down with rain outside (hey, it IS monsoon season in Thailand) and I just want to take a hot shower. Okay, it doesn't even have to be HOT, a lukewarm shower will do. Just not another cold shower!

  2. Soul food. There's only so much pad thai or döner kebab or dhal fry or insert any country's national dish here that I can eat before I just want something home cooked. More specifically, something cooked from my mother's house. I think this is really a testament to my mom's cooking that I can travel to all these places with delicious food that I love and still want to eat something my mom can whip up for me in 20 minutes. Or maybe not because I'd kill for an In'N'Out burger right about now as well.

  3. Friends and family. I love meeting new people when I travel. I like the back and forth between two strangers meeting and the camaraderie one feels with a fellow traveler but on certain days it can feel forced. Am I just spending a day exploring ruins with Jorge, the gun-loving, recreational drug user from Colombia, who I have nothing in common with just for the sake of having company? I don't know but sometimes, I just want to go out for a beer with one of my best friends and have a gab-fest about silly things like Joaquin Phoenix's bizarre career change or debate about who, in fact, was Papa John.

  4. Unwrinkled, clean-smelling clothes. I'll be the first to admit that I'm no clean Jean. Household chores are just that: chores I try to avoid at all costs, but for some reason I have always loved to do laundry. I love the clean smell of clothes fresh from a wash. I haven't experienced that smell in AGES since I started traveling. Being crammed into my backpack, no matter how nicely folded, for days on end, getting thrown and bashed around on trains, planes and buses, not to mention hanging off my sweaty back for hours, has left my clothes smelling...well, less than clean, let's just say. With my moldy, wrinkled clothing, I look more like a hobo these days than a traveler. I just want to look and smell decent, is that so much to ask for?

  5. Space. My home consists of a backpack. I'm essentially a turtle, treading through life with my home attached to my back. Oh to have a room of my own again! No more living out of a smelly, dirty, tossed-around bag. Things would be there because I wanted them to be there! How utterly blissful that sounds...
Traveling is great, no doubt. And "home" is ultimately where the heart is. Even though sometimes I do long for the old familiar things, I wouldn't give up this life of travel for anything in the world, even if it means taking cold showers, smelly like mold and sweat, settling for Skype dates with loved ones and giving up the notion of personal space. To me, travel is worth those sacrifices.

**When do you feel homesick during your travels? What do you to do cure it?**

© Connie Hum 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

Montage Monday: Iceland

A new feature on Connvoyage, a 3 photo montage highlighting the best memories from my past travels! Enjoy!

The natural beauty of Iceland as seen driving along the Ring Road, the highway that encircles the whole of the island. Gorgeous sky and scenery for miles and miles. Everywhere was basically a photo op! I never had such a good time being stuck in a small rental car with 3 other people.

My friends, Jake and Beth sharing a lovely moment at a rest stop along the Ring Road. Yes, this is a rest stop!

My absolute most memorable moment from my Iceland trip: seeing the Aurora Borealis. This may in fact be one of the most memorable moments of my life! Seeing it was absolutely surreal, I couldn't believe it! The Aurora Borealis is simply amazing.

© Connie Hum 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stop the Eat, Pray, Love Comparisons, PLEASE!

In no way do I have a thing out for Liz Gilbert. I think it's fantastic that she did all the things she did in her book, "Eat, Pray, Love" and I think it's even better that she was able to inspire people to take life into their own hands and make a change.

With the new Julia Roberts movie adaptation of the book garnering much press and attention on people leaving their "established" lives to travel the globe and find love and inner peace along the way, I've been getting a lot of attention from friends, family and even journalists asking me how I've been inspired by the book.

Let me set this straight: Eat, Pray, Love did NOT inspire me to live the life I am currently living. And I doubt that it was the catalyst for many of the world
travelers making their way around the world right this minute, no offense Liz Gilbert.

Yes, I may be gratuitously eating my way around the world and yes, I did in fact go to a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat and yes, in fact I have fallen in love ( a number of times) during the course of all this. Does this mean that I have a story similar to Liz Gilbert's? Not by any stretch of the imagination! First off, I backpack around the world. Second, I'm on a major budget since I haven't had a paying job in almost 2 years and I'm living off my hard-earned savings. And lastly, no one is financing this journey for me in any way (unless YOU'd like to, hey, I'm open to the suggestion). No book deals, no film in the works, no donations, nothing.

People travel for a number of reasons, all individual and unique to the traveler in question. Just because someone has gone down a similar road as we have, it doesn't mean we're copy-cat travelers. I think that idea does a disservice to Liz Gilbert and to every single traveler out there.

We're all trying to make sense of the world and how we fit into it in our own ways. Let's give each individual due credit here.

And Liz Gilbert, if you're reading this, I wish you continued success in life and love, along with everyone else reading this, traveling or otherwise!

© Connie Hum 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

Old Phuket Town

Phuket has made its name with travelers in Thailand for its gorgeous beaches and ready-to-party atmosphere. Most people arrive into Phuket and head straight for the beaches, skipping the old-world charm of Old Phuket Town, just 18 miles/30 kilometers south of Phuket International Airport, almost entirely. They don't know what they're missing!

What Old Phuket Town may lack with respect to white-sand beaches and a raging party scene, it makes up for in generous amounts of charm and a bustling art and culture center, not to mention the amazingly authentic Thai food that can be found around almost every corner. Acting as Phuket's main economic hub, Old Phuket Town deserves to be discovered and explored for at least a day or two for its unique blend of old and new, traditional and modern, simplicity and style.

The first thing visitors to Old Phuket Town will notice is the unique Sino-Portuguese architecture thrown in with a significant amount of Mediterranean flare. It's a captivating blend of style and history! Streets are lined with homes and buildings in its original pastel-colored architecture, beckoning you to stroll back through time. Many of these Sino-colonial mansions have been converted into restaurants or shops, a clear example of melding the old with the new but while retaining their originality and allure.

I'm a total sucker for beautiful, decorated doors and my eyes were getting their fill of amazingly striking and colorful doors around Old Phuket Town. Street after street, door after door, I continued to see doors more intriguing and artfully crafted than the last.

I discovered a non-descript local restaurant to pop in for a Chinese-influenced Thai meal that made my taste buds jump for joy. The food was plentiful, delicious and ridiculously cheap. Half hidden by shrubbery and located just off of one of Old Phuket Town's main roundabouts, this little family-owned restaurant served up ready made fare from a glass cart. The dining area was practically the family's living room and was decorated with antiques and hand-made recycled paper products like vases, coasters and handbags. Next best thing to Mom's cooking!

More strolling around Old Phuket Town revealed a number of boutique shops, cozy cafes and bustling art centers and galleries. Interspersed between these modern additions were old printing factories and Chinese herbal clinics. It sounds like things should feel out of place with one another but they didn't! It added to the allure of Old Phuket Town.

With all its activity, Old Phuket Town still manages to exude relaxation and quaintness. Perhaps it's not a bad thing after all that so many people skip out on exploring Old Phuket Town. It certainly doesn't mean you have to. I'm glad I didn't!

© Connie Hum 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Montage Monday: Peru

A new feature on Connvoyage, a 3 photo montage highlighting the best memories from my past travels! Enjoy!

Markets are the beating heart and living pulse of a country. There's no better way to see a new country's way of life, culture and people than at a local market. The sights, sounds, smells, food and bustle of the people inside a local market reveal a slice of normal life, something tourists will never see at famous landmarks or from inside a hotel room. At this local market in Cuzco, a young boy stands watch over a plate of chicken feet, advertising the colorful alpaca hats behind him.

Islas Ballestas is often referred to as the "Poor Man's Galapagos," but this serves as grave injustice to these islands. The teeming life and diversity on Islas Ballestas deserves a name for itself. The large number of guanay guano birds, blue-footed boobies, sea lions and penguins, to name a few of the species of life that inhabit Islas Ballestas, deserves to be brought out from the shadow of the Galapagos. The dramatic rock formations that make up the small islands form a perfect backdrop for nature-watching. For the lucky few (myself included), dolphin sightings are not uncommon in Islas Ballestas.

The ruins of Macchu Picchu peeking through the early morning mist evoked in me a feeling of awe, discovery and beauty. Exploring Macchu Picchu after a day of hiking to the top of neighboring mountain, Putukusi was reward enough for a sore-legged traveler. My day wandering the grounds of Macchu Picchu will forever remain one of my favorite travel memories of all time.

© Connie Hum 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Teaching English: A Lesson Learned

Disclaimer: The children I teach, due to special circumstances, need their identities to remain anonymous. Therefore, I am unable to publish any photographs of them. But trust me, they are ADORABLE!

A couple of weeks ago, I was teaching Conversational English and the topic was "democracy." The students, acting as Congress, were to come up with ways to make their school better.

The students were very realistic about how they were going to improve their school. They understood that improvements meant money and they knew there wasn't any. The changes the students wanted to implement were simple and their suggestions revealed exactly how they felt about their education.

Being children of (mostly illegal) migrant Burmese workers living in Thailand, these children do not have access to education in Thailand. The only way these kids get any form of schooling is through the work of NGO's like GHRE that provide the education pro bono. Many of these students are eventually forced to drop out of school in order to work and help support their families.

The "measure" that the students unanimously passed was LONGER class periods, extending their existing 45 minute lessons to 55 minutes. Because the students all have responsibilities at home, they couldn't stay at school later in the afternoon to make up for the additional time. Every single student was willing to cut their lunch period short in order to have the longer lessons. Why? "Because we want to learn more before we have to stop to work."

It breaks my heart that these kids are such bright and eager learners, but without the necessary opportunities available to them. In a much kinder and fairer world, these children would have the same rights to education as many of the children in other countries, without fear of getting pulled out of school to work in rubber plantations, fisheries or the like.

This lesson was an eye-opener to how lucky we are in the Western world to receive education and never fear having to leave school early to help feed your family. I just hope that soon, everyone in this world will have this same opportunity.

If you would like to help support education for children in lesser circumstances, I highly suggest you make a donation to GHRE, or any other educational NGO for that matter. The work these organizations are doing are phenomenal and they can all use our support! If you cannot provide monetary assistance, consider volunteering abroad the next time you travel. It will give you a travel memory unlike any other and the incredible feeling you get from giving back is reward enough! I recently wrote a guest blog about international volunteering that you should read if you plan to volunteer abroad.

Last but not least, as I have spent three months with these children and have come to care about them very much, if you have any old children's games, toys, clothing, books, etc. that you would like to donate to them (and I know they would be absolutely OVER THE MOON about it), please send them to:

PO. Box (13) Takuapa Post Office
Takuapa, Phang Nga Province 82110

If you want to organization a collection of items for donation, but are worried about the cost of shipping to Thailand, send me an email and we can come up with something!

Let's help make a brighter future and a more just world for these lovely children to grow up in!

© Connie Hum 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Montage Monday: Istanbul

A new feature on Connvoyage, a 3 photo montage highlighting the best memories from my past travels! Enjoy!

Oh, how I loved crossing the Bosphorus and approach this amazing view of Eminönü! It felt like the city was just waiting for me to unlock all of its secrets and magic each time. This photo was taken with my Diana F+ lomo camera in black and white.

Balkan music and gypsy dancing all night long at Istanbul's Hıdrellez Spring Festival. The music was incredible and the company was excellent. These guys sure know how to throw a party! One of my more memorable nights in Istanbul!

One of my favorite places in Istanbul, Büyük Mecidiye Mosque in Ortaköy. Gorgeous views, fabulous cafes and delicious kumpir (baked potato with all the fixings you could ever imagine), what more could a girl ask for? It was my perfect Istanbul afternoon.

© Connie Hum 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Road Drip

In celebration of the Buddhist holiday, Vassa (also known as the Buddhist Lent or the Rains Retreat), schools in Thailand were closed for two days, giving me essentially a four-day weekend July 23 -27.

Matt and I decided to take the opportunity to explore a bit more of Thailand. We packed a weekend bag and took off on our moped for a four-day road trip. Unfortunately, the weather was not as cooperative as we would have liked and it ended up being a road DRIP. It rained every day during the weekend and instead of making it as far as we had originally planned, we stayed all four days in Krabi.

Despite the rain, the four days in Krabi was relaxing, just the thing we needed. Matt and I enjoyed the freedom of sleeping in and doing absolutely nothing. We spent a lazy afternoon playing Scrabble, which was very fun, especially since Matt and I are so competitive with each a good way! For the curious, I won (by a lot).

All the well-known fun activities that can be had in and around Krabi, including rock-climbing, diving, hiking and lazying on the beaches were scrapped due to the rain, leaving Matt and I with little to do in Krabi. Luckily, the beautiful mountainous scenery and the huge street markets, especially the weekend market, dotted around town kept us amazed and amused. Besides, eating is one of our favorite past times so I really can't complain.

The variety of street food on offer in Krabi's numerous street markets was truly vast and mouth-watering. There were plenty of juicy chicken satay dribbling with peanut sauce, aromatic duck noodle soup, spicy and tangy papaya salad, fresh fruit, enticing balls of meat on sticks and of course, pad thai.

I don't think there was a single food stall I walked past and thought to myself, "No way would I eat that." Well, except maybe this one!

© Connie Hum 2010

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