Sunday, January 30, 2011

Montage Monday: Nepal

Take a walk down memory lane with me on this three-photo montage highlighting my best memories from past travels!

It was a gorgeous day to be kayaking in Phewa Lake in Pokara. Unfortunately, kayaking proved to be more difficult than I had imagined and I ended up going around and around in circles instead of in a straight path! Frustration, as you can imagine, ensues.


Matt and I are all smiles during the first day of trekking the Annapurna Circuit. Check out the gorgeous mountains of the Himalayas behind us! What an unbelievable place to be trekking! Unfortunately, 9 hours later and no lunch turns our smiles upside down into frowns.


We made it to Thorung La Pass! At a height of 5,416 meters (or 17,769 feet), breathing was a challenge, not to mention the cold temperature and high winds that made it a hard climb.  It was definitely a hard day of trekking but the sense of accomplishment was immense. Matt and I were very proud of ourselves! Now, we just have to survive the trek down from Thorung La...

© Connie Hum 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Banana Split: Sweet and Sour Chinese

Although the day started out fine, Matt and I didn't arrive into China for the first time under the best of circumstances. We had walked across the land border between Lau Cai in Vietnam and Hekou in China with relative ease. Then, things went a bit downhill...

The Lau Cai immigration center at the Vietnam/China border


From Hekou, we took an eight-hour bus journey to Kunming. The bus ride wasn't so bad, except for the heavy smoking that took place in the back of the bus. By the time we arrived into Kunming, things were not looking too good. It was already late in the evening and quite dark. The bus station seemed to be literally miles from the actual city of Kunming and we had no clue as to where we actually were. Neither Matt nor I had eaten all day and were quite cranky from the day's cramped traveling conditions. We didn't have any Chinese RMB as we had just crossed the border that very morning. Oh, and we had absolutely NO IDEA where we were going to stay for the night.

Enter the Chinese.

We were swarmed even before we were off the bus. Exhausted, hungry, grumpy and confused, Matt and I thought that the best option was for us to pretend like we didn't speak Mandarin at all (even though I can understand and speak a little bit) until we had the chance to think and figure out what we were going to do.

Rapid Mandarin was fired at me (remember I look Chinese and well, can you blame them because I actually am): "Miss, where do you want to go? Do you need a taxi? I have a lovely hotel..."

"I'm sorry, we don't speak Chinese," hoping that this would buy us some time to think and locate ourselves on the map.

It didn't work.

The crowds stayed with us but made lots of commentary thinking we didn't speak Chinese but not knowing that I could (kind of) understand them.

"She says she doesn't speak Chinese but she looks Chinese!"

"I saw them first, I will take them in MY taxi!"

"My, what big bags they carry with them!"

"Who is the white boy she's with?"

And so on and so forth.

Finally, in exasperation, I said, in Mandarin, "We have no money" to try to get them to leave us alone.

Everyone laughed and more commentary followed, as well as cruel (so it seemed to me) imitations of my poorly spoken Mandarin.

"She DOES speak Chinese! I knew she was Chinese!"

"What does she mean they have no money?"

"How come the white boy doesn't have money?"

Now, I can only imagine that this has happened to us in EVERY single place in Asia we've ever been. The only difference was that I didn't understand what was being said. And to be honest, in the horrible and bad-tempered mood that I was in, I found it really annoying that these people were being so rude in talking about us to our faces even though they now knew that I could speak and understand Mandarin, that they laughed at me for trying to speak Mandarin and then mocked me for it AND that they were not actually trying to be of any help to us at all.

We did our best to ignore them and tried to figure out what to do. The logical thing was to take a bus into town but that required money, which we had none of and there were no ATMs or money change stations around. In short, we were kind of screwed.

Wanting to get away from taunting crowd, Matt suggested that we walk away from the station and hope that we find an ATM along the way (Fellow travelers, THIS IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA! If you cannot see lights for miles around, THIS IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA).

We started walking. It was dark. There was nothing around. I was hungry and I wanted to cry.

After a few minutes, we realized that someone had been following us. It was a middle-aged lady. "Miss, Kunming is very far. You will never make it there on foot. I have a nice hotel here. You can stay the night and then tomorrow go to the city."

I translated to Matt and we decided to check out the lady's hotel even though we didn't have the money to pay her. When we got to the lobby, I was trying to ask the lady and her teenage daughter where we were located on the Lonely Planet map but they said they couldn't read the map.

The empty street where we spent our first night in China
Okay, maybe I need to explain the language situation. My mother is Chinese, right? She speaks a dialect of Cantonese called Tai Shan. I grew up speaking this and that's the Chinese language I speak with my mother's side of the family whenever I'm back in my hometown (which is, sadly, not too often). I learned Cantonese through various avenues such as Chinese pop music (yes, I went through THAT phase), watching Hong Kong action films (another phase) and speaking with Hong Kong friends in high school. That said, my Cantonese is okay, though I tend to throw in Tai Shan words in my Canto conversations. In high school, for some inexplicable reason, I really wanted to learn Mandarin (read and write as well). I had private Mandarin lessons twice a week and attended Mandarin school for two hours each Saturday morning. This went on for about three years, though I will confess and say that even though I asked for the Mandarin lessons, I was never too keen on learning it and kind of breezed through the three years of lessons (sorry Mom for wasting your money!). It's safe to say my Mandarin was pitiful.

Now back to the embarrassingly slow conversation I was trying to have in the hotel lobby. Finally, the daughter gets frustrated with me as I'm trying to explain to Matt what was going on and yells, within inches from my face, in Mandarin, "Miss, if you just tell us where you want to go, we can help you!"

I'm ashamed to say it but I lost my temper. You have to understand, I was tired, hungry, grumpy, lost, penniless, sore and now a Chinese girl was yelling in my face.

Inches from the girl's face, I yell back, in (slow and broken) Mandarin, "I do NOT speak Mandarin! Just wait a minute!"

I turn back to Matt only to see him bulge-eyed and shocked at my outburst. "What the hell just happened?"

I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. Calmly, I turn back to the daughter and explained in Mandarin, "We have no money. We do not know where we are or where we are going. We are hungry. We have no money. We have no money to pay you for the (whatever word I thought "room" was). We do not have money to eat food. We are hungry and tired."

Then, a miracle happened. The lady who had followed us said, "It's okay. Here, we give you 100 RMB so you can go eat. Tomorrow, we take you to Kunming so you can get money and pay us back."

Grateful, we thanked them and went next door to get some dinner. Bellies full, Matt remarked on our way back to the hotel how funny it was that moments after yelling in their face, the ladies had given us money for the night.

I had to admit, my first impression of the Chinese wasn't a great one with all the yelling and running commentary but they sure saved us from a night of desolation with their kindness and hospitality and for that, I will always be grateful. I just wish I had kept my cool a bit earlier. And certainly, I have no idea what would have happened to Matt and I if this situation had occurred anywhere else where we truly didn't speak the language.

Little did I know that this would come to be the prime example of most of our interactions with the Chinese while we traveled in China. Some people were really nice and helpful to us while others mocked and ridiculed me for my poor Mandarin skills. But more on that later!

Have you ever had a travel experience where someone's generosity and hospitality, despite any language barrier, helped you out of a difficult situation?

© Connie Hum 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Xiao Long Bao Know-How

Xiao long bao, also known as soup dumplings, is a tasty Chinese dim sum delicacy and probably one of my absolute favorite types of dumplings out there. Originating from Shanghai, xiao long bao is steamed in bamboo baskets and served hot. Xiao long bao is extremely delicate to handle and should be eaten immediately. Once they cool, the dough will harden and you lose the flavor and soft texture it is most famous for.



Xiao long bao, fresh and hot from the steamer

Unfortunately, I've seen more than enough tourists try out xiao long bao incorrectly and miss out on the best part of the dumplings: the soup inside! I've seen too much soup spilled out onto the plate of an unsuspecting diner or lost to the bamboo basket that I've decided that the madness must stop. I cannot sit by anymore!

Here is an easy guide to eating xiao long bao, the proper way.




Step 1: Gently grab the top of the dumpling with your chopsticks and slowly peel the dumpling away from the basket. You want to make sure that the dumpling doesn't break!




Step 2: With a spoon ready in your other hand, place the dumpling at the crook of the spoon. This should leave some free space at the front of the spoon.




Step 3: Using your chopsticks, puncture a small hole into the dumpling and allow the soup inside the dumpling to run out onto your spoon.







Step 4: Drink the soup from the spoon and enjoy the hot deliciousness. It will drive you insane! 





Step 5: Using your chopsticks again, dip the dumpling into the special xiao long bao concoction of soy sauce, vinegar and ginger.




Step 6: Place the entire dumpling in your mouth and enjoy!

Soon, you'll be a whiz and enjoying xiao long bao as quickly and easily as this:


I hope this tutorial is helpful to you. I sure enjoyed making this post!

Have you ever eaten xiao long bao before? Were you unlucky enough to lose your soup? Don't worry, it happens to the best of us! Hopefully you'll get to taste xiao long bao again, soup and all!

© Connie Hum 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Montage Monday: Eating Crickets in Bangkok

My FIRST official video post! How exciting! Bear with me while I learn new techniques and tricks but expect more video posts in the near future! If you have any tips to help me bring you better videos, please leave it in a comment below! And Leigh, YOU'RE WELCOME! Ha!

This Montage Monday, witness candid reactions to trying fried crickets for the first, and let's face it, last time in Bangkok!


video 

Would YOU be brave enough to eat a cricket like Sam, Matt and I did? Or would you be too squeamish like Judith?
  
© Connie Hum 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

When Life Throws You a Curveball

You remember my "big news" about taking a six-month teaching job in China? And how I said it was going to be a great opportunity and I was looking forward to it?

Well, that just fell through. Apparently, the Education Bureau recently changed its policy on foreign workers and Matt and I no longer are applicable for the working visa.

As the news came upon Matt and I rather suddenly, we're in a bit of a shocked state, trying to figure out where to go and what to do next.

But can I be honest with you? I'm relieved that the job fell through. And here's the bomb of a confession I've been withholding:

I kind of hate China.

There, I said it! I'm sorry, I know a lot of people are on the China train and raving about all the great experiences they had traveling in China but I'm afraid that's just not what I encountered. I wish I had, I really do, but I just didn't and I'm honestly sorry to say that I kind of hate China.

Let's not get into the whys of it right now (but I do promise I will blog more about my time in China and what made me hate it in the near future) but I'm back in Guiyang and had been looking for an apartment, meeting with school administrators, applying for my China work visa and freaking out!

I kept thinking: I hated China, do I really want to live here for six months? Will I be able to overcome this general bad feeling I get from China? Will the people here be nice to me the second time around? And the biggest question of all, will I actually be happy?

I was seriously going out of my mind here but now that the working visa didn't come through, I feel as though the hugest weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

But I also feel a little bummed.

You see, I'm a firm believer that everyone and every thing deserves a second chance. I may not have had the best experiences in China but that doesn't mean that it can't happen. Yes, I was nervous about the next six months of unknowns but isn't that what life is, or at least, should be all about? Taking chances?

Now that I won't have that opportunity, I'm disappointed that I won't get to experience a better China but, like I said, also relieved.

Now what? What do you recommend Matt and I do?


© Connie Hum 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Spotlight: Through Africa For Africa

Ricki is a 30-year-old teenager who loves nothing more than seeing a kid smile. He recently returned to South Africa from teaching in his beloved Taiwan where he had the privilege of being truly in love with his job. Ricki is now in South Africa planning a cycling adventure called "Through Africa For Africa" down the eastern half of Africa for some wonderful charities! The idea being to give something back to the wonderful people of Africa, something tangible, something real that will make a positive difference in their lives. Central to the concept is involving those who share his enthusiasm not only for Africa, but for humanity and humanity's well-being. At Ricki's core is the deep desire to witness pure, innocent expressions of love between human beings. Nothing warms Ricki's heart like seeing humanity selflessly giving of itself for humanity's sake.



1. What was the initial appeal of doing a cycling trip? 

The initial appeal arose out of a strong desire to challenge myself on a totally different level. Having changed my lifestyle to lose about 35 kilograms after leaving high school, I have come to thrive on physical challenges. Cycling the length of Africa is a step up from anything I have done in the past, and represents a significant challenge! These physical challenges are so closely linked to one's mental frame of mind, and to be able to tap into previously untapped areas of the mind, was another intriguing part of the adventure.

2. In your experience, what makes cycling a better way of traveling?

Cycling brings one so close to the most real people one could ever hope to meet. When a person travels at a slower pace than automated vehicles generally do, and often through areas off the beaten track, the traveler is afforded the privilege of getting to know the people most people will never meet; the people totally unaffected by tourism. This, for me is the greatest incentive for cycling through a country. I may not have seen all the tourist attractions, but I got to meet the most beautiful, wonderful people I could ever hope to meet.


3. Please describe an experience or event that you would have never had if you had been traveling in a more conventional way.

Two things stand out for me. In Cambodia, during my longest, toughest day on the road, had I not been cycling, I would never have been invited to share lunch with a wonderfully gracious Cambodian family. This young guy saw me pedaling at a snail's pace, totally exhausted, turned his scooter around and came to chat. He had a bunch of bananas and gave me one to eat as I pedaled alongside him. He could see that I was on my last legs, and, knowing that there was nowhere to eat for miles, he offered me lunch at his house with his family. They were such a wonderful family, with very little in terms of worldly wealth, but only too happy to feed me and have me as a guest in their home!

In Vietnam, something that very few people really experience is the famous Hai Van Pass. This pass,between Hoi An and Hue is truly a sight to behold. While some may travel over it and admire the views from the top, my bicycle and I got to live every second of that climb and descent!

Oh,and if I had not been stuck in Mui Ne with my bicycle,I may never have met Connie and Matt. That would be tragic!

4. What is the best advice you can give to travelers interested in going on their own long-haul cycling trip?

A trip of this nature may seem daunting at first, but if you commit to it with all your heart, you are guaranteed  an absolute mountain of memories which will touch your heart! The physical and mental exertion is hugely demanding, but the consequent heightened senses and awareness make every experience so much more powerful. Truly rewarding. Commit to it, and everything will fall into place.


5. Can you please tell us more about Through Africa for Africa and what brought about the idea of it?

Through Africa For Africa is a project which is nearly 2 years in the making. It is an attempt at experiencing the real Africa, while at the same time, trying to make my humble contribution to the African continent. The basic idea is to cycle the length of Africa and try my best to make a real, tangible difference to the lives of those my cycling partner and I will meet, rather than just handing over cash.

This concept came about because I believe that generous people who are willing to give of their own money, are often so far removed from their donation. We do not see any direct consequence of our contribution, and this is where Through Africa For Africa is unique. I hope that through our efforts, we are able to bring the donor closer to their donation.

6. Where is your next big cycling trip going to be?

Through Africa For Africa is the project I am working on now. We will cycle from Egypt, through Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique, before cycling in to our little home town of Ballito, South Africa.

7. What's the craziest thing you've ever done on a bike?


Without a shadow of a doubt, braving the roads of Vietnam each and every day...


Ricki is truly an inspiring traveler and both Matt and I feel lucky to have run into him in Vietnam! Good luck with Through Africa For Africa, Ricki! You're doing a great thing and we're looking forward to hearing your stories and seeing your photos from Africa!

For more information on Ricki, his charity bike trip and to make donations, please visit Through Africa For Africa

© Connie Hum 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guest Post: Living the Chai Life

Arriving in India following a rather unsettling and turbulent flight, my initial instinct was to find a good cup of coffee to prepare myself for the utter chaos that was Trivandrum. Searching high and low through the fume-filled racetracks of India's highways and sidling around various farmyard animals inhabiting the dusty back streets there wasn't a coffee to be found. Shock horror!

As a highly indulgent caffeine addict at home in the UK, the idea of spending the next six months without coffee honestly scared me. It took a few sleepy days to realize that the 1.5 billion inhabitants who contribute to the sub-continent's somewhat orderly chaos seem to rely on something equally as potent and energizing as the world's much loved espresso: chai!

Chai can be found everywhere. From humble stands littering every street, the much-loved chai wallahs aboard the intricate and highly efficient train network to upmarket restaurants, Chai is in abundance and when you try it, it's not hard to see why.


A chai wallah in Mumbai

Usually made with full fat milk, robust, black Assam tea and a heinous serving of sugar, the sweet, creamy, steaming concoction is served in tiny glasses not much bigger than a shooter. It's said that every Indian family has their own secret recipe, adding various spices to make what's known as Masala Chai. Having covered over 8 states in 6 months, Connie and I found ourselves involuntary connoisseurs, sampling a new blend in every city.

Though most recipes are a closely guarded secret I did manage to pick up a few tips and additions to make a great brew. This recipe is a rough guide that should give you something resembling authentic. You can add any spice you like, I just tried making it with white pepper for some interesting, though not unpleasant results!





Ingredients: (to yield 4 cups)
  • Whole milk*
  • Water*
*In equal parts, measured out with the cups you'll be drinking from
  • 8 - 12 tsps sugar (remember, chai is meant to be VERY sweet, you can adjust accordingly)
  • 6 tsps loose black chai
  • 1 pod of cardamom
  • 1 cinnamon stick (can be used a few times)
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • Sprinkling of nutmeg

Preparation:




Stir the milk, water, sugar and spices (except the cardamom) in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. It's important that the liquid fills only half of the pan as it will expand during cooking so use a pan big enough.






Place on a moderate to high heat and stir occasionally to prevent burning.




Allow the milk to boil until it's frothing rapidly. When the milk starts to expand and climbs toward the top of the pan, add the chai and cardamom.




Keep stirring so that the liquid doesn't boil over and the mixture starts to take on a brown tan colour (you may have to turn the heat down a little if the boiling is too vigorous).




Take off the heat after about 30 seconds to a minute and pour through a strainer into a tea pot.




Serve and enjoy!
  
Note: Once the milk starts to boil the whole process becomes very rapid so don't leave it unattended otherwise you'll be literally crying over spilled milk. When chai is allowed to cool a little for drinking, a film tends to accumulate on the top. Don't be put off, this is very normal. It just means you made it right!



Matt Burchell is, among other things, my boyfriend. He's pretty cool. He likes to cook and eat, just like me. Matt is originally from London, England but was most recently calling Brighton "home" before he set out to travel the world in January of 2010. Matt has a photo blog though he finds little time to post new photos on it. When he does, they are usually pretty good ones. You can find Matt sporadically at Roam From Home

© Connie Hum 2011

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Montage Monday: Boston

Take a walk down memory lane with me on this three-photo montage highlighting my best memories from past travels!


My friends and I spent a lovely day outside in Boston Commons. We were all pretty much out to have a good time and we ran around, jumping and laughing at things, eating, walking, wading in the pond. Everyone must have thought we were crazy, but we aren't (for the most part). We were just having a good time.


I love little buildings wedged in between much larger ones! I had a great time following Boston's Freedom Trail and taking in the historical sights.


Cemeteries have always held a morbid fascination for me and I was enthralled by this small cemetery we encountered in the middle of Boston. It was probably the first "old" cemetery I had ever been to in the US so it's decrepit state was intriguing to me. I spent some time there reading the different headstones. My friends all thought I was weird...and maybe I am.

© Connie Hum 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Drum Roll Please!

Here it is folks! The BIG NEWS ANNOUNCEMENT!

Are you ready for it?
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
Matt and I have each ACCEPTED a six-month English teacher position in Guiyang, China!


View Larger Map

Obviously this wasn't ever planned or even an idea in our heads, but the opportunity presented itself to us and seemed just too good to pass up!

Besides the obvious perks of earning a much needed income and receiving paid housing, Matt and I will get to work with kids again (always a fun time!) and we have the opportunity to travel in China a little more. Matt plans to learn Mandarin and I hope to improve mine.

And to be completely honest, we need a break from all the traveling! We're really looking forward to having a place to call home, even if it's only for six months.

We now need to make our way back to Guiyang to sign our working contract, get our medical check-up and look for our apartment. Once that is taken care of, the school will apply for our working visa with the Chinese government. After we receive final visa approval, we head back to Hong Kong to pick up the working visa and start teaching in Guiyang shortly after!

Cross your fingers nothing gets in the way of our working visa application!

So that's the BIG NEWS I've been going on about for the last few weeks. I'm sorry if you find this disappointing and had hoped for something more dramatic but it's pretty big news to us and will definitely effect our lives, at least for the next year.

We're not sure where we will head after the six months in China but we're still looking at Australia at some point in 2011.

What do you think of our news? Are you disappointed that it was something much BIGGER? Would you come visit us in Guiyang?

© Connie Hum 2011

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Montage Monday: India

Going to India on my own in February 2010 was a HUGE step for me. I had absolutely NO idea what to expect and coming from the comforts of traveling in Burma with my family the month prior to my arrival into India, I was quite shocked in the beginning by some of the things I saw.

Once I got over the initial freak-out, India really grew on me. I have nothing but great memories of that place and here they are for this week's Montage Monday!


One of my early excursions out sight-seeing in India was to Ellora. I was really pleasantly surprised by this place. As mentioned earlier, I really had no idea what to expect in India but I definitely didn't think there would be caves to this caliber! I spent the day exploring caves on my own, meeting some friendly locals who kept wanting to take photographs with me and chatting to some young school children who were eager to practice their English. It was one of my more memorable days in India!


When I traveled through Nasik, I met an incredible family who took me into their home and treated me just like family! They fed me delicious hom-cooked Indian food, tried to teach me how to make chapatis and even took me to visit their grandmother! For a laugh on the morning of my departure, the ladies thought it would be fun to dress me up in one of their wedding sari's. The dress was absolutely gorgeous, though it weighed almost a ton! I can't imagine wearing one in the heat of India! As I said my goodbyes, the ladies completely humbled and rendered me speechless when they presented me with a stunning yellow sari as a gift...


Which I later wore to the Indian wedding Matt and I were invited to! I was super excited to attend this particular wedding because Indian weddings have always held some strange fascination over me. Perhaps it has to do with all the colorful saris or maybe it was all the intriguing rituals, I'm not sure but I had always wanted to attend an Indian wedding. As the wedding we attended was a Muslim wedding, women were not allowed to participate in the actual wedding itself. I spent most of my time at the house of the groom's with his family. So I didn't get to witness first-hand an Indian wedding (turns out that the weddings I was thinking about were Hindi weddings) but I did get to spend a few afternoons playing with some of the sweetest kids in India!


© Connie Hum 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Banana Split: The Introduction

My year of traveling throughout Asia has left an incredible mark in my life! I've experienced so much, both good and bad, but I learned something new from each and every day.  Looking back on my time in Asia, my photos and blog posts reveal just what a great year 2010 really was for me. 

Unfortunately, it hasn't always been easy. I'm afraid that being an Asian-American traveling in Asia was no easy feat for me. I've been bottling up these feelings, experiences and observations up for some time now but I've come to realize that it's given me a very unique travel perspective on people, culture, prejudices and social interaction that I should share with others.

I've decided to start a series of blogs called "Banana Split" to delve deeper into my experiences as an Asian-American, as an Asian-American traveling the world, and particularly as an Asian-American traveling in Asia.

I hope you enjoy my version of "Banana Split"! 

------------------------------------

I'm pretty proud of my heritage. My mother is Chinese, my father is Burmese. I was born in Burma but moved to California when I was just over a year old. I've lived in America most of my life and I'm as "American as apple pie." I can speak passable Cantonese and Burmese, with a piddling of Mandarin though all with a slight American accent. I'm what some people might call a "Banana": yellow on the outside but white on the inside.

Baby Connie sitting inside a pagoda in Yangon, Burma
As a child, I wasn't so proud of my heritage. I was one of the few Asians in my elementary school (my two cousins made up the rest of the Asian population). I got taunted for my "chinky" eyes and home-made bowl-shaped haircuts. At the time, it felt like a slow, tortured death.

The bane of my childhood existence: the bowl-shaped haircut (with my cousin Jeremy)
Growing up, cultures would often clash between my traditional Asian family and my American lifestyle. I wanted to be able to do all the things my American friends were allowed to do, such as stay out late with friends or date boys. I was always in trouble because I refused to be the typical Chinese daughter. Needless to say, I was quite rebellious in my teens and fought off my Asian-ness to show my mother just how "Chinese" I really was.

My parents always said to me, "You think you're American but you're not! You're a Chinese girl!" Somehow the Burmese half was always left out...

It's been a difficult process coming to terms and finding my place in the world with my Asian heritage and cultural upbringing while living and growing up in America and I think I've done well with it so far.

Then, 2010 happened. Traveling as an Asian-American in Asia has called my identity into question a number of times over the year. I struggled with it, became frustrated with it and now, I've decided to write about it! To be continued...

I know not all my readers are Asian-Americans but do you think it's a worthwhile topic to explore? Are YOU interested in this unique travel and cultural perspective?

© Connie Hum 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hotel Review: Thai Binh Sapa Hotel, Sapa

Located in the remote north-western mountain range of Vietnam, Sapa is famous for its rugged scenery and opportunity to glimpse into the lives of ethnic minorities living in the region. Visitors enjoy a few days trekking around the area of Sapa, visiting traditional villages and admiring the dramatic mountains and rice terraced hills. 

The rice terraces just outside of Sapa
Located at the entrance of Ham Rong Mountain in the center of Sapa town, Thai Binh Sapa Hotel is a cozy and intimate family-run place. The staff are as welcoming as the burning fire in the lobby's fireplace and their level of English is better than most of the other hotels in Sapa. Services at Thai Binh Sapa Hotel include transport arrangements between Hanoi and Sapa, transportation between Lao Cai train station and Sapa, trekking opportunities around Sapa and laundry. The complimentary breakfast was pleasantly filling and delicious, the perfect way to start the day!

The entrance to Thai Binh Sapa Hotel
With only eight rooms, all currently priced at $25 USD, guests at Thai Binh Sapa Hotel enjoy a type of hospitality usually reserved for family members and old friends. Opened in 2005, the guestrooms at Thai Binh Sapa Hotel are no-frills and minimally decorated with natural wood furniture, keeping with the natural surroundings of Sapa. Every room comes with private bath and hot water, heating unit, water kettle for tea or coffee, satellite television and wireless internet capability. The electric blankets are a special treat though, providing a much-needed warm and inviting retreat from the chill of Sapa's mountain air.

The deluxe twin guestroom at Thai Binh Sapa Hotel
Sapa attracts tourists for its opportunity to connect with the hospitality of the ethnic minorities in the region. Why not start your stay in Sapa with the family-run Thai Binh Sapa Hotel where hospitality and friendliness are the rules of living?

For more information on Thai Binh Sapa Hotel or to make your reservations on-line, please visit their website.

*Disclaimer: Although my stay at Thai Binh Sapa Hotel was sponsored by the hotel, this hotel review is an accurate and honest view on my experience there.

Would you stay at Thai Binh Sapa Hotel when you visit Sapa? Why or why not?

© Connie Hum 2011

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Montage Monday: Cancun

An early HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my good friend, Kristin! In 2008, we celebrated Kristin's birthday in Cancun with her family. It was an awesome week! Here are my three favorite photos from that trip:


One day, Kristin and I met up with a fellow Couch Surfer, David, to rent mopeds and scooter around Islas Mujeres. It was a gorgeous island and we had a lot of fun making our way around it. It was the first time I had ever driven a moped on my own and I think it may have been Kristin's as well. Needless to say, it was a huge (mis)adventure for me. I panicked often and almost crashed into Kristin at least once! Luckily, I was able, with my ninja-like reflexes, to maneuver around her. We finished the day off with local food and a nice big glass of horchata. Yum, horchata...


One night, Kristin and I went out to...this place. I can't remember the name of the entertainment show/club/bar but it was CRAZY. There were people dressed up as Superheroes re-enacting fight scenes, people dangling from the ceiling with bedsheets, flaming cocktails, confetti, monster-sized balloons... CRAZY. I don't even know how we know we met these two guys. That's how crazy it was!


Most days we spent our day on the beach in Cancun. The water was warm and blue, the sun was wonderfully hot (remember, we had just flown in from cold, wintery New York City) and we had so much fun goofing off with each other and with Kristin's family. Definitely one of the best family vacations I've ever been on!

You know, it's been almost two years since I last saw Kristin. Since then, I've moved to Istanbul and traveled in Asia while Kristin moved to Germany to live with her boyfriend and teach English. We've had very little opportunity to see each other and I miss her so much. We still stay in touch with emails and Facebook, but darn it, two years is TOO LONG!

Kristin, I hope you have an AMAZING birthday this year and I really wish I could be celebrating it with you! Next time we see each other, there shall be cake balls (yes, I said it: CAKE BALLS) to make up for all the missed birthday celebrations!!!

© Connie Hum 2011

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