Macau: Portugal in China

By Emily

I don’t remember what made us decide to visit Macau in the first place. We needed a plane ticket out of China, I think, so we hastily bought the cheapest flight we could from Hong Kong/Macau to Taiwan (yes, they’re all technically part of China, but we’ll cover that more in a later post about Taiwan), and ended up in Macau for two nights. We booked an AirBnB (cheaper than a hostel in this region) and set out from Hong Kong by ferry, no idea what awaited us on the other side of the Pearl River Delta.

While in China, I did some reading on Macau’s history and tourist spots to figure out exactly where we were headed. I was surprised to hear it had once been a Portuguese colony (my colonial history knowledge has never been stellar) and wondered whether it would remind me of the Azores at all. My paternal family is from this tiny group of Portuguese islands in the Atlantic, with the past five generations of Cardozas born and raised in San Luis Obispo county, California (losing the language along the way, but not the appetite for fish nor the desire to cultivate fruit trees). A few years ago, my grandparents were generous enough to take myself and ten other family members to visit the homeland – Pico and Faial, specifically – where their parents and grandparents were born. Beautiful in both nature and architecture, the small towns on these islands amazed me with their ornate churches and breathtaking views of the Atlantic. I was also stunned at how many of the islanders looked like they were related to me – and in truth, many of them very well could have been. We were even lucky enough to meet a very distant cousin – an older man named Manuel who had a hobby of building miniature windmills – who looked a heck of a lot like my grandfather.

Back to the other side of the planet – here’s a brief history of Macau, for anyone who doesn’t know (I certainly didn’t).

Prior to the sixteenth century, Macau was primarily inhabited by the Tankas, an ethnic subgroup in China, as well as Han Chinese people. The Tankas are “boat people” who live by fishing, with community histories in southern China and parts of Vietnam. In the early 1500’s, Portuguese traders arrived in Macau and were allowed by the Chinese government to set up a commercial center. Over the following decades and centuries, the Portuguese influence expanded: a Roman Catholic diocese took root, the Iberians formed their own unofficial Senate, and the Portuguese even defended the region against attacks by the Dutch (well, their slaves did). After the Opium Wars, China ceded Macau to Portugal in 1887, making it an official Portuguese colony.

But the world wars and rapid governmental shifts that shook the globe in the twentieth century didn’t miss Macau. Partially as a result of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Macau’s inhabitants demanded change from their Portuguese administration; and after Portugal’s own Carnation Revolution, overseas colonies began to decolonize. In 1999, Macau was officially absorbed back into the Chinese sphere of influence, making it a special administrative region (SAR), like Hong Kong.

What does all of this history mean for Macau today? Well, their official languages are Cantonese and Portuguese, despite the fact that 95% of the population is Han Chinese and only 2% is Portuguese. This actually made traveling around the city much easier – with my intermediate French and Ethan’s beginner Spanish, we were able to read Portuguese signs and navigate through the historic spots more easily. We also ran into a ton of Portuguese travelers, on their own and in groups, who were exploring the region (and a bunch of them looked like my dad and his siblings. It’s truly bizarre). Macau also has a really great infrastructure set up for English-speaking travelers, providing free walking tour maps and guides (and an app).

Aesthetically, I felt like I was back in Portugal. The black-and-white cobblestone streets with their intricate designs matched my homeland exactly; the brightly colored buildings with European flair made my jaw drop. When I walked into the São Lourenço church, all of my memories of Western architecture classes came flooding back. The older sections of the city feel like a town in eighteenth-century Europe was transplanted to the other side of the world, and China filled in the blanks. Hearing Cantonese outside the Portuguese embassy (an historic building near our AirBnB) felt dissonant, but oddly worked perfectly with the Macanese lifestyle we witnessed.

And the FOOD. Macau has its own flavor, a special mix of Chinese and Portuguese cuisines with a ton of fish and spices (and cheese. Bless my people). We were directed to a nearby Portuguese restaurant by our AirBnB host, and we were not disappointed. I’d post pictures, but we ate the food so quickly that nothing survived to be Instagrammed.

One huge part of Macau that I’m not mentioning – its reputation as the “Las Vegas of the East.” Macau has quite a few large casinos, with eastern branches of the Venetian and the MGM Grand. We didn’t end up checking out these fine establishments for a few reasons: 1. We were only in Macau for two nights and 2. The only traveler we met who had been to Macau told us they weren’t worth our time, comparing them to “shitty Vegas, with no free drinks and the stakes are higher”. Next time, I think I’ll give them a look-see, though.

I’ll absolutely be returning to Macau to learn more about its history and see more of the city. Next time, hopefully, with my family in tow 🙂

China Photos – SAR Edition

Howdy folks,

TL;DR – The Brits and Portuguese left some unusual places behind after that weird colonialism phase. See photos here.

The Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of China – both within and at the very fringes of the Middle Kingdom. For six days, Emily and I got one last taste of the People’s Republic in the two places that least represent it – Hong Kong and Macau.

The former we were experiencing or a second time, though this time around we stayed on Hong Kong Island, did more hiking, and generally saw HK’s non-Kowloon side. Macau, though, was a fresh place, and it surprisingly felt very different from both China and Hong Kong. I really liked it, though! (Minus the oppressive heat) See Emily’s soon-to-be-posted take on it soon.

Stay tuned for pics from what is by-far my favorite place on this trip so far – TAIWAN!

Love,

E&E

Ten-thousand Li From Home – Life in Sichuan

Hello e-travel companions,

TL;DR – Omg cute panda pics, cloudy landscapes, and Ethan getting his ears cleaned by a random dude. Pictures here!

Emily and I recently wrapped up three weeks – half our China trip! – in Sichuan province.

Sichuan is China’s “land of milk and honey,” or as it’s better (actually) known in Chinese, the “Land of Abundance.” It’s name Sìchuān (四川) means four rivers, referring to the waterways that have been tamed and diverted for thousands of years to irrigate the broad Sichuan basin. Free from flooding and strong influence from other parts of China, this region has given birth to separate kingdoms, unique languages, and – of course- really spicy food.

Our home base and first stop was the provincial capital of Chengdu. “Oh, Chengdu!” Chinese people will exclaim. “Did you go for the pandas?” No, we didn’t just go for the pandas…but hell yes we saw them and they were hilarious/adorable. But my favorite part of Chengdu was by-far its more laid-back culture, focused – it seems – on tea drinking, river strolling, and overall having a good time (read: eating). The city is large, but not overwhelming, and its public transit system has far surpassed the efficiency and ease of BART in less than a decade. Pair all of this with a wealth of museums, bars, and restaurants…yeah, Chengdu is already up there as one of my favorite cities ever.

However, half our time spent in Sichuan was outside the city – on a farm an hour to the southwest, as well as a brief stay on a sacred mountain to the northwest. Farm life – for me – was stupendous. Not because it was comfortable, but because it was rewarding. I forged lovely friendships with an Israeli couple, a Puerto Rican-American girl, a wild dude from Maine, and several of our fellow Chinese hosts/workers. I help rig an overhead irrigation system, ferried people about on an electric tractor, learned the finer points of wood sculpting (with a power sander, that is)…all around, it was an excellent Workaway.

Our adventure out of these lovely three weeks was…not so stupendous. However, that I will save for another post, because it’s a funny story that some of you may have followed-along with live on Facebook.

I write to you now from a hostel in TAIPEI, AKA Quite Possibly the Raddest City in Asia. But until we get to here, we’ve gotta get through Hong Kong (round 2!) and Macau pics. So! Until next time.

Love,

E&E

Fine China

By Emily

We’ve been in mainland China for the past seven weeks, navigating our way from Shenzhen to Chengdu, with several stops along the way. While I’ve wanted to write more about this experience, it’s been hard to find any singular topic – for me, so much of the experience has been mixed. I’ve had some of my most fun moments of travel – zipping through the countryside on an electric scooter, snuggling baby kittens, going to an incredible hot pot restaurant – as well as my least fun – mosquito attacks, losing half of our clothing, food poisoning (ugh). I’m also nothing close to an expert on China’s politics, history, and cultures, so am I even qualified to write this? Here goes:

The Negatives:

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“Travel Fatigue” in an image

By the time we got to Hong Kong, Ethan and I had started feeling incredibly tired. After some doubt about our own abilities to undertake long-term travel, we found that it’s not uncommon for such people to experience travel fatigue (check out articles here and here). Often, people refer to our trip as a “vacation” or something else flippant, and I begin to bristle. Sure, we recognize that we have a level of privilege that allows us to do this, but the lifestyle is anything but relaxing. And China has certainly tested the level of discomfort I’ve experienced as a Westerner.

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Guangzhou train station – the clouds should have warned us

The Guangzhou train station is by far the most chaotic environment I’ve ever experienced – we missed our train the first time we tried to catch it, and ended up coming back the next day (two hours early). I’ve found that many bus/train/subway stations aren’t much more organized, and that quite a few Chinese citizens haven’t embraced the concept of “lining up.” Most “tourist information centers” don’t have English-speaking staff, either. While the buses between cities are fairly regular, it’s incredibly hard to figure out where the bus stations are, as well as how to buy tickets for them.

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Hoping we’re on the right bus?

 

After getting spoiled in Japan, we’ve been confronted by wooden beds (without mattresses/pads), squat toilets (my least favorite thing in the world), and a lack of available drinking water. Public urination and/or defecation isn’t uncommon either, especially among young children (at least THEY have an excuse). While I was warned about all of this ahead of time, getting used to it has been… hard.

The Awkward Parts:

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Me showing off my sunburn – and my response to people staring, generally

You know how you felt as a teenager, that everyone was staring at you all the time and judging you? Well, that actually happens to us. I’ve never been stared at as much as I have in this country. At first, it was funny, but after people started taking my picture (or video) without my consent, it got annoying. Just ask, people! I’ve asked locals why it is that I get more stares than Ethan, and I’ve gotten a few answers – “Because you are tall” (I am usually the tallest woman in my line of sight) or “Because you are beautiful” among them. While I appreciate the flattery, it’s hard to believe that my beauty is potent enough to affect small children – who frequently point and yell “WAI GUO REN” (“foreigners”) at us. I’ve responded to this by waving, winking, or pointing at those I catch staring, which usually surprises them. Quite a few other travelers (especially women) have mentioned this phenomenon as well, and while the staring doesn’t usually lead to a come-on or even a conversation, it’s certainly unnerving.

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Ethan getting Civ 6 tips from a friendly 8-year-old

It’s been much harder to communicate with people as well. While Ethan is making great headway in his Mandarin practice, asking questions beyond a few words is very difficult. We’ve responded to this by typing into Google Translate and holding up the results, or using a very complicated gesturing system. Usually, Chinese speakers have a decent sense of humor about our ineptitude, but we’ve been in quite a few uncomfortable situations in which the language barrier seemed particularly acute.

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Ethan on a motor scooter with Xiaolo

While we have driven motor scooters and the like through the countryside, we have yet to get behind the wheel of a car. Part of this is trepidation about driving in China, where the two rules of the road seem to be “Drive aggressively” and “Always be beeping.” As a Californian, I adhere to the policy that using one’s horn for anything other than a near-fatal accident is unnecessary. But here, horns are for communication – honk when you drive by another car, honk when you’re behind someone, honk if no one is around but you feel like making your presence known. Also, lines on the road are more suggestions than rules – many of our taxi drivers have spent at least half their routes driving against the traffic flow.

When Things Are Good, They’re Really Good:

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Ethan plays ping-pong with the Coolest Man in the World™

Even with us lao wai (slang for “foreign”) tourists, so many people in China have been incredibly friendly. We’ve been challenged to ping-pong matches, offered free food and drinks, and generally helped by locals in every city. I’ve seen many more smiles here than in Japan, and received quite a few enthusiastic “Hello’s!” from strangers and passers-by. It’s nice to feel as though you’re in a safe community no matter where you are, and that people are aware of one another.

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Many Americans still think China is like this ^

To continue that, China has felt very safe the entire time I’ve been in the country. Before we left the US, one of the more common questions we got was “China? Are you sure it’s safe?” The fact is, average citizens don’t have access to guns (the local police don’t even carry them), the city streets are well lit, and since people are always outside, hanging out or walking around, you never feel like you’re going to get snuck up on or even bothered. The United States is far more dangerous than anywhere I’ve been in China (especially recently), and one of the more common questions I’ve gotten from Chinese citizens is “America? Is it safe?”

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Me getting ready to devour beef noodles

Let’s move on to something we can all agree on – FOOD. Every single meal I’ve had has been awesome, and I don’t regret a single one (okay, maybe whatever gave me food poisoning, but other than that…) I enjoyed Japanese cuisine, but their favorite spice appears to be salt. Here in Sichuan, every meal has at least 20 different spices thrown in, plus garlic, onions, and all kinds of flavors. We were both challenged by hot pot – in Chongqing, it’s not just a meal, it’s a lifestyle – and the traditional ingredients – goose guts, chicken feet, beef stomach. Still, we persevered, because anything cooked in a Sichuan sauce is worth eating.

Bright Lights Big Cities

Here are some highlights from each city – if it’s mentioned, it’s recommended!

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View of Guangzhou from Zhenhai Tower (Five-Story Pagoda)

Guangzhou

  • Lazy Gaga Hostel – One of the best hostels we’ve stayed at thus far. Excellent facilities, super clean, reliable wifi, socializing space, and even a few groceries.
  • Tristan’s Tex-Mex – We Californians were dying for anything resembling Mexican food, and we found a restaurant run by an American expat! The burritos were heavenly, and Ethan nearly cried when Tristan himself brought out Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas beer from behind the counter.
  • Sun Yat-sen Memorial Museum – Beautiful architecture houses a near-complete history of Sun Yat-sen’s contributions to the forming of modern China, as well as a history of the building itself.
  • Zhujiang New Town – Really cool plaza in the middle of the city, with gardens, art pieces, and tons of people watching. It’s especially lovely at night, when all of the surrounding skyscrapers are lit up.
  • Zhujiang River Cruise – We were lucky to be with a Guangzhou local (shoutout to Annie!) who brought us on this fabulous cruise up and down the Zhujiang River. While it was cool watching the city at night, I’d go back for the daytime cruise, too.
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View of our village outside Yangshuo – check out them karsts!!!

Yangshuo

  • West Street – Very touristy, but it had quite a few interesting shops and services (We had our toes nibbled by fish. Best $4 I’ve ever spent). At night, it’s PACKED with people, but that’s when the local restaurants and bars come alive…
  • Mojo Bar – A paradise for expats, Mojo is owned and operated by newbies to China. Great drinks, free video games, and friendly staff.
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View of one neighborhood (and neat bridge) in Chongqing

Chongqing

  • Qianximen Bridge – In a world full of phallic buildings, yonic architecture is hard to find. This bridge is visually compelling and fun to walk across – during our stroll, we watched a wedding photo shoot happening on the median while cars rushed past!
  • Three Gorges Museum – This huge museum holds a ton of exhibits, both temporary and permanent, and focuses especially on the construction of the Three Gorges Dam (a marvel or a fiasco, depending on who you talk to).
  • Hot Pot Cultural Promenade Yingbin – Just over the hill from the city, hot pot restaurants spread for miles. According to our AirBnB host (shoutout to Coco!) who brought us to this culinary delight, the locals of Chongqing celebrate everything by eating hot pot.
  • Ciqikou – An adorable winding path lined with shops and eateries, Ciqikou has been a shopper’s paradise for centuries. Today, the wares are mostly plastic (or fidget spinners), but we did come across some cool antique kiosks full of Cultural Revolution memorabilia.
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View of Jinjiang River in Chengdu

Chengdu

  • Giant Panda Research Base – WE SAW PANDAS PLAYING TOGETHER AND EATING BAMBOO. AND RED PANDAS. SO MANY PANDAS.
  • Jinsha Site Museum – Amazing preserved archaeological dig, plus a museum of the items found and their historical significance. The park around it is beautiful and pleasant to walk through as well.
  • Mrs Panda Hostel – Another highlight of our Journey of a Thousand Hostels, Mrs Panda Hostel is super clean, inexpensive, and all of their food is tasty. Extra points for having the board games Set and Carcassonne, which we’ve missed dearly.
  • Sichuan Museum – This enormous building houses quite a few exhibits on regional history, highlighting all sorts of arts, crafts, and more. My favorite section focused on traditional embroidery and brocade – the fabrics were incredible.
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Your friendly E’s of AirEandE

Ethan and I were lucky to be granted ten-year visas, allowing us to enter and exit China without issue for the next decade (for 60 days at a time maximum). And after spending a month and a half in the southwest, I can say that I’ll be looking forward to more Chinese travel experiences in the future. Though I’ll bring my own supply of DEET next time.

Rivers and Roads – Guilin, Yangshuo, and Chongqing

TL;DR – China is hot in the summer; pictures here.

The second half of August found us next to a whole lot of rivers. In Guilin and Yangshuo, where the Yulong and Li meet; in Chongqing, where the Yangtze and Jialing meet. These were hot weeks in the southwest, but life in China doesn’t stop no matter where the mercury’s at.

After taking a high speed train from Guangzhou, we spent a few rainy sick days in Guilin – the center of karst country. As the weather and our health cleared, we bused down to a smaller (yet somehow more touristy) town named Yangshuo. There, we lost half our clothes, rode motorbikes through fields, taught English, and met our favorite Egyptian (shoutout to Mohamed!).

After a few more days in Guilin, we took our first domestic flight to Chongqing. Chongqing is massive, with over 10 million people in the city proper and 30 million in the broader region. In some ways, its skyline and sheer beauty rivals Hong Kong. But life here is pretty laid back, and the cityscape, with all its bendy roads and many hills, reminded me of San Francisco and Haifa, Israel. Here we enjoyed an excellent museum, were taken to hot pot by our lovely AirBnB host and her family, and cuddled a kitten.

We write to you now from Chengdu, after having spent a week on a farm an hour away from this amazing city. Pictures, as always, are on their way. Until then!

Love,

E&E

 

Names from Travels

By Emily

*Cross-posted on NothingLikeAName.blogspot.com*

While traveling, I’ve been explaining my interest in and study of names to all kinds of people, leading to some cool conversations about naming conventions in other countries. Here’s a list of names and stories I’ve come across so far – apologies if I asked you about your name, then forgot to write it here!

Last names (and anything particularly identifying) have been removed!

Christopher called Kit
A good friend of mine told me how he got his nickname, one that’s unusual for our age group. He enrolled late in preschool when he was about three, and the teacher told him and his parents, “We already have two Christopher’s and two Chris’, you’ll need to pick a new nickname.” So they researched alternative options and found Kit! He likes his name, and it suits him well.

Sibset: Yua and Kanoa
These two sweet girls have equally sweet Japanese parents, who were very gracious about answering my questions about the kids’ names. They likes these names particularly because of their meanings, which I remember as “good help” and “kind help” (but Google is being unhelpful on confirming this!)

Frank’s family
An American friend living in Japan (who I miss dearly) comes from a big family – and he sent me a detailed explanation of all of their names! (One of the many reasons Frank is the best). Pretty much every child has been given names to honor a close friend or relative:
Frank Rowley, I’m named after a minister who lived… in Colorado and was as a grandfather to my mother. My father as a gift gave her the choice of my name and that was her choice.
Joseph Charles is next. Joseph is my mother’s father’s name and Charles is my father’s father’s name.
Mary Ellen Rose is the third child. (First name Mary Ellen) Her name is my father’s mother’s name and his grandmother’s name.
Fourth is Billie Ann Margret. (Billie Ann is first name, double names for every girl actually) Billie Ann is my mother’s mother’s name, Margret is my mother’s grandmother’s name.
Fifth is George William, George is my father’s name and William is my father’s grandfather’s name as far as I know.
Sixth is Helen Elizabeth Mae. Helen is my father’s stepmother’s name, Elizabeth and Mae I’m not sure about.
Seventh is Maureen Kimberly Alice. Maureen and Alice are my father’s closest sisters name, and Kimberly is my mother’s youngest sisters name.”

Kate
A fabulous Australian woman told me that she was supposed to be named Marissa, but her mother was helped by a kindly Kate whose birthday was near her baby’s due date. She said “If the baby is born on your birthday, I’ll name her after you,” not thinking that it could actually happen. Lo and behold, baby Kate was born on that exact day.

Aya 
One of my favorite names! I met an Aya at a concert for the band YAY – she pointed out to me and the band members that it was her name flipped. Perhaps that’s why she attended?

Apolline (called “Apo” or “Apple”)
I was introduced to la belle Apolline while working with her a hostel in Ehime prefecture. Another worker told me her nickname was “Apo,” which I misheard as “Apple”. I definitely think that name-nickname set could work in the US! Note: the Japanese word for apple is ringo, and my boyfriend began referring to Apolline as “Ringo-chan,” much to the delight of our Japanese hosts.

Aslı 
A new Turkish friend told me her name meaning via email before I even asked – of COURSE we became friends. It means “origin,” and is used for girls in Turkey. She apparently gets called Ashley a lot, though.

Youhei, Kouhei, and Kyouhei
Three of our hosts in Ehime had VERY similar names, listed above – one of them joked we could call them all “The Hei’s.”

Twins: Sydney (f) and Tucker (m)
Their mom was ahead of the curve – these two are 25 years old, but their names sound incredibly modern. I like that the names fit well together but don’t feel matchy-matchy. Sydney recently had a baby girl named Maeve – a very stylish choice.

Yvanne (Yiwan)
While her official name is Yiwan, meaning “beautiful cloud” in Chinese, Yiwan told me that she goes by Yvanne when working with English speakers since it’s easier for them. But once I heard her name’s meaning, I had to call her Yiwan!

Nadia
While in Osaka, I met a friendly Frenchwoman named Nadia – which intrigued me, since I thought that the name wasn’t popular in France (checking the data, that’s an incorrect assumption!) She told me that she was named after Nadia Comăneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 at the Olympics. So cool!

Momen Morgan
Disclaimer: we were speaking at a loud open mic night, so there’s a chance I misheard his Chinese name! While talking with a family in Hong Kong, I met a man with two interesting name stories. His Chinese name, which I heard as Momen, means “no news” (can’t confirm online, but he probably knows better than Google). For years he didn’t know why his parents named him this, but as an adult his father told him the name comes from the saying “no news is good news,” echoing the virtues of peace and contentment with the present in Buddhism. His English name Morgan comes from a movie that his parents watched and loved, called “Morgan!” (1966) – but the main character spends the movie descending into madness. Sounds like this man’s parents were a kick!

Chun Nam 
I met Chun Nam (English name Stephen) in Hong Kong, and he gave us an amazing tour of the Kowloon Walled City – AND answered a bunch of my name questions! When he was born, his name was Tsin (展) Lung (龍), with the meaning of “an unfolding dragon, symbolising something good, like [positive] development in [his] life.” However, another word (剪) also sounds like Tsin in Cantonese, meaning “scissors” or “cutting,” making his name sound like “cutting a dragon in half.” His parents, fearful of the implications of this inauspicious name, took him to a feng shui master to make a new name: Chun (震) Nam (楠). “Chun means shaking, like in an earthquake, and Nam is a very valuable type of good wood… The names means if you place the piece of wood in the river, it would resist the wave and stand still (won’t shake).” I love this name history for all of the universal elements of naming it brings in – parental preferences, etymologies/meanings, aural confusion, and looking to outside professionals for help.

Sofi and Rumi
Alright, so these are border collies, but I found it delightful that in the middle of Guangdong’s (China) countryside, there were two dogs with such star names – with Sofia and Sophia being the world’s current favorite for girls, and Beyoncé making waves with a daughter named Rumi.

Nicolai
I met the incomparable Nicolai while in the Chinese countryside, and this Danish man surprised me with (what sounds to me like) a Russian name. He’s one of five children, and their sibset is fantastic – Rasmus, Nicolai, Frederik, Christina, and Josefine.

Fabian (f)
I met wonderful and Welsh Fabian while at a hostel in Guilin – her name is actually spelled creatively, but because it’s so unusual, I’ll simplify it for privacy’s sake. She’s the only female Fabian she’s ever met! She also comes from a great sibset: Seren (m), Phoenix (f), and Siaman (m) are her brothers and sister.

Katy
I met English Katy at the same hostel in Guilin, whose name sounds fairly popular – until she pointed out to me that no one in the UK spells her name correctly (Katie is preferred). The midwife wrote the incorrect spelling on her birth records, and it stuck!

Mohamed
We met while working at an English school in Yangshuo, China. He’s from Egypt, and when I asked him how many Mohamed’s he knows, he said “More than you can ever imagine.” (HA!) He was born on the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday (peace upon him), hence his first name (his middle name is after his father, Ayman). He told me some great stories about his siblings’ names too: it’s customary for the grandmother to name the first child, but since Mohamed (firstborn) was named by his father, his grandmother insisted on naming his next oldest sister – Sarah. His brother Yousef was given one of the more popular names of his birth year, and in Egypt the name Yousef implies strength, handsomeness, and kindness. His youngest sister is Dina, but Mohamed couldn’t remember why that name was chosen 🙂 His mother’s name is Ghada, meaning “graceful woman” in Arabic.

“The Eastern Expanse” – August 1-14, Guangzhou

Howdy folks! Ethan here (on Emily’s laptop, because she stole mine to play videogames).

TL;DR – Here’s a link to our photo album!

On August 1, we put those Chinese visas we got to good use and crossed the border north of Hong Kong. If HK was scary, Shenzhen was terrifying; never had we felt more out of place on this trip, wandering from the subway to our hostel. Suffice it to say, staring is not considered rude around these parts, and Emily’s hair is a roving tourist attraction. As I kept stupidly saying, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore.”

However, arriving in Guangzhou (just a quick high speed train ride away) released some pressure. Guangzhou (and the broader Pearl River Delta region) is a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells, befitting of its sometimes-nickname of “The World’s Factory.” The people are direct, friendly, and have places to go, and their obvious hustle is a living testament to China’s incredible economic growth.

But, as soon as we arrived, we departed – off to a eco-village/meditation center (I know, right?) outside the city. It wasn’t the best experience (hippies aren’t the most organized folks), but it meant a week to get used to China in the surreal surroundings of the subtropical forests that ring a not-too-far-away megalopolis. There, Emily and I were put to work clearing trails that led away from the village and into the forest, armed with machetes. When we weren’t exhausted from doing that in 35 degree C (~90 degree F) heat, we became good friends with a Danish dude (not annoying) and a 17 year-old Chinese kid who didn’t speak a bit of English (sort of annoying; he’s a sweetheart though).

…and then off again! With the Dane in tow, we spent a week back in the city proper sightseeing, sweating, and eating lots of dim sum. Already, I’m eager to repeat what I said above – Guangzhou is a mesmerizing hive of activity. And yet, it’s a strangely cozy place, with plenty to eat, convenient public transit, and tons of things to do. For instance, I was amazed by not only the number of museums, but just how busy they are. Folks in Guangzhou might not be the most quiet or polite in museums…but they seem to really love learning about history, culture, science, and more. That I can really appreciate.

I write this to you now from a small village outside a slightly larger town outside a city 2 hours north of Guangzhou (by high speed train) – it’s called Yangshuo and it’s surrounded by unbelievable mountains. We’re working at an English language school for a week – our job is to talk with the students for 2 hours in the evening.

Will our heroes go have an insightful cultural experience? Will Ethan talk too fast for non-native English speakers to possibly understand? Will Emily go crazy from having to chat with – ugh – people? Tune in in two weeks.

Love,

E&E

 

 

How We’re Doing This Travel Thing

By Emily*

This post is going to focus around a lot of the questions we get, as well as an overview of what the trip is like from a day-to-day perspective. If you have a question for us that isn’t answered here, go ahead and ask!

“Why are you doing this?”

Short answer: We both love traveling.

Long answer: After experiencing Japan for the first time during a trip in 2016, Ethan was eager to return (and add a few other Asian nations to the itinerary). I hadn’t been on a trip longer than one or two weeks since 2010. We spent a few months discussing the pro’s and con’s (mostly the pro’s) and deciding how/when we’d be able to undertake a long term trip.

A few factors in our decision to travel now, versus later: we’re both at an age/life stage where we don’t mind “rougher” living situations (hostels, walking all day, etc); we were both ready to leave our current jobs and experience something different for a while; we don’t have too many responsibilities (like mortgages, kids, school, etc) that could affect future travel plans.

“How are you paying for this?”

When we made the decision to undertake a year-long adventure, it was about a year in advance of our planned departure date. We read a lot of travel blog posts online about how different travelers budgeted for such a journey, and came up with the figure of $10,000 each for a year of travel. We spent the year saving money, adjusting for planned expenses (phone bills, travel insurance, etc) and researching cheap travel tips (as well as Workaway and CouchSurfing). Currently, we both make money while traveling via remote working – I write articles for BabyNameWizard, and Ethan advises high school students applying to college via email and Skype. We’ve also adjusted our length of trip from “one year” to “when the money runs out” – we would rather have more flexibility/comfort now than prolonging an uncomfortable trip.

“How did you plan ahead?”

Internet! It is easier than ever to find destination recommendations, cheap flight websites, and free daily itineraries in almost every language for every country. Travel blogs written by people like us (millennial Westerners without an infinite sum of money) have been incredibly helpful. We also depend a lot on WikiTravel, Google Maps, and Reddit. Being who I am, I’ve made quite a few spreadsheets to keep track of flights and hostels, what to pack, and weekly plans (when necessary).

“Why are you traveling in Asia?”

Ethan was the impetus for this decision – being an amateur scholar of Japanese history and language (#weeaboo) and working with recent Chinese immigrants to the United States sparked his curiosity to explore these particular countries. When we started researching travel plans, we found that adding Southeast Asia to our trip wouldn’t be too difficult once we were already in the “area” (continent).

While my travel experience prior to this has been in the US and Europe, I was eager to expand my knowledge on a part of the world that I’ve learned very little about. There’s also not many places in the world to which I *wouldn’t* go – I’ve got one life, might as well use it to explore all there is to see!

“What’s in your backpack?”

Probably too much. I’m currently using Flight 001 bags to organize everything, so at least it’s not all in a jumble. Here’s a quick run down:

  • Clothes: Three dresses, four tops, two undershirts, skirt, jeans, belt, leggings, shorts, pajama shirt/shorts, swimsuit, sweater, scarf, two pairs of socks, three bras, five underwears (ExOfficio is amazing!!), Birkenstock sandals, tennis shoes
  • Electronics: Laptop (MacBook Air), iPhone, mobile charger, charging cords, international outlet adapters, earbuds
  • Toiletries: deodorant, lotion (doubles as styling product), acne cream, face wash, toothbrush/toothpaste, floss, tweezers, mascara, lipstick, sunscreen
  • Medical kit: ibuprofen, band-aids, tampons (which are incredibly hard to find in Asia!!!), anti-malaria pills, antidepressants (I stocked up on a year’s worth in advance)
  • Documents: passport, driver’s license, immunization record, visa paperwork
  • Miscellaneous: quick-dry towel, sewing kit, travel blanket and pillow, tissues, pens/notebooks, reusable utensils, safety pins, lint roller, inflatable hanger, rain poncho, umbrella, mini combination locks, hair elastics, laundry soap packets

Being able to carry everything I own feels limiting in some ways but liberating in others. For example, I’m not very into fashion, but I really miss wearing more than three different outfits and putting on makeup when I want to. On the other hand, I’m always very proud when I find ways to use my limited tools to solve problems – tweezers and safety pins are surprisingly versatile!

“What do you do every day?”

It depends on the day!

  • Travel days – Going between cities usually involves either a bus, train, or plane. On these days, we pack up and check out of our hostel/Workaway, then spend a few hours schlepping our gear through turnstiles and subway stations. Once we arrive at the new location, we check into our hostel/Workaway, and usually rest. These days are sweaty and very tiring, so we don’t usually get to do much sightseeing.
  • Workaway days – We wake up, eat breakfast, and work for a few hours. Then we spend the rest of the day checking out the local sites or relaxing until dinner. Naps are often involved, as is socializing with other workers. Check out my post on Workaway here.
  • “Work days” – I usually sit in a quiet air-conditioned room and write a baby name article (with occasional bouts of procrastinating on Sporcle). Ethan will follow up with students via email or hold Skype meetings (with occasional bouts of procrastinating on news websites). We also use these days to plan travel logistics, such as buying bus/train tickets, creating itineraries for cities, or contacting Workaways we want to go to in the future.
  • Sightseeing days – We walk, look at things, and sweat. Well, a little bit more goes into it: we usually come up with a route or neighborhood of a city that contains a few sites we’re interested in. This can include museums, statues, parks, shopping streets, monuments, cool buildings, and temples. While we’re walking through it, we take a lot of pictures and usually embarrass ourselves in one way or another. We’ll also try to sample the local cuisine!

*Because this is written by Emily, some facets of Ethan’s travel experience are not included (obviously). Feel free to message him directly if you have questions for him!

The Ups and Downs of Workaway

By Emily

Today is my 76th day of travel (105th for Ethan), and I’ve been working for roughly half of it – 14 days in Nagano, 6 days in Osaka, 13 days in Kuma Kougen, and 4 days in Guangzhou (soon to be 5). For those who don’t know, part of the way Ethan and I have been keeping costs down on our trip has been through the Workaway program. Workaway connects international volunteers with community-oriented businesses, promising cultural exchange and a way for travelers to stay in areas that might be expensive or difficult to find. Businesses post about themselves on the site, and talk about what kind of work volunteers will do as well as what they offer in return – accommodation, food, activities, etc. We volunteers then email these places and apply to work for them, usually for a minimum of two weeks. Workaway puts in place an hourly maximum (no more than 5 hours a day, maximum 5 days per week) and allows volunteers to review the businesses and vice versa.

When I first heard about this program, it sounded too good to be true. Free food and lodging for hanging out at a hostel a few hours a day? (Childcare, farm/garden work, and English teaching are among the other popular opportunities). I agreed with Ethan, that this program could help us travel for a longer period of time, and help us explore these towns that we might never see otherwise. So, we decided to base our trip through East and Southeast Asia around the Workaway opportunities we could get.

37 work days later, my opinion on Workaway has changed a bit. Here’s a breakdown of my perspective on the pro’s and con’s of the program:

Advantages:

  • People: Through Workaway opportunities, I’ve met dozens of travelers and become friends with them; in countries where I can’t speak the requisite language(s), this has been a godsend. Because we’re eating, living, and working together, we can form friendships quickly based on common ground. I’ve heard stories from their home countries and their travels, gone out drinking, karaoke-ing, and sightseeing with new friends, and made connections for further travels (looking at you, Europe and Australia). Being homesick for my friends and family has been made so much easier with these new connections and new friends.
  • New Skills: While the opportunities we’ve chosen have mostly centered around cleaning and gardening, I can definitely say that I’ve learned new ways of getting things done. I can now thoroughly clean a bathroom in under 5 minutes, shuck freshly-chopped bamboo for use in meals, and make a bed in at least 4 different ways. I’m now much less grossed-out by tasks that previously annoyed me – washing dishes, scrubbing toilets, and ignoring large bugs (much harder than it sounds). If nothing else, I’ll be able to return to the US and complain less about emptying the dishwasher (this is for you, Mom).
  • Saving Money: Whether or not meals are provided with the Workaway opportunity (about half the time), staying at a Workaway location means saving money. There’s not having to worry about hostel/AirBnB fees, avoiding transportation costs, getting meals and/or drinks covered by the business (or at least discounted), and spending a few days working instead of going out and spending cash on museum visits, souvenirs, etc. For people I’ve met who are staying at a Workaway for two months or more, this is a crucial part of their budget.

Disadvantages

  • Workaway Profile vs. Real Experience: As would be expected, many businesses play up their amenities and play down the work itself in order to attract volunteers. However, in 2/4 of the places we’ve been, the work has just not been accurately advertised – one place said that gardening and painting cabins were the main projects, but when we showed up, the work was cleaning cabins and bathrooms daily. Our current location advertises itself as an “Eco-Village,” and said teaching dance and music and gardening would be our primary focus, but the last three days have been spent hacking a trail through the nearby forest in 90 degree heat. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind a week cleaning a hostel if they were clear about it on the website (and I’m really efficient at it now), but promising one thing and delivering another feels like a trick.
  • Difficult Managers: Having left my favorite boss ever at my last job in CA (miss you, Linda <3), I might have some high expectations. Two managers through Workaway have been particularly amazing (Maya!!! and Kate!!!) and wrangled dozens of wacky millennial volunteers with grace and fairness. But at the other locations, management has been… disorganized to say the least. In some instances, the volunteer managers can’t speak enough English to explain the tasks, the daily schedule, etc., and since the default language for most international travelers is English, it’s been rough. In other cases, they’ve been uncommunicative for other reasons, asked more work than was originally requested, or shown a lack of respect to the workers. One issue we’ve run into a few times is what a fellow traveler called “being a petting zoo”: Workaway staff are “shown off” to guests as exotic foreigners (while we’re working, and we’ve even been asked to show up to locations just so the locals can see us), but we’re discouraged from actually speaking to guests and practicing the language.
  • Fatigue: With a maximum of 4-5 hours work per day, I was anticipating a lot of free time to explore the cities or get some writing done. But a lot of the work has been exhausting, to the point where I’m too tired to leave the Workaway or even read/write effectively. Maybe I was naive to think that I could do helpful work in four-hour shifts that wouldn’t make me want to lay down and sleep for the rest of the day. But combining work with the stress of being in a brand-new location with a new language, having your body get used to new foods/living environments/time zones, and doing the necessary upkeep for personal and mental health (socializing, hobbies, exercise, etc) is a lot. I suppose there’s a reason many people separate travel and work!

To counteract the negatives, Ethan and I have been alternating Workaway weeks with strictly travel/sightseeing weeks. This allows us to feel like we’re doing more of what we want and still saving money. We’ve also started including “work/relax” days in our plans, without any attractions/excursions, to help us catch up on much-needed mental and physical rest. As we identify possible Workaways to visit in the future, we’re more careful to get clear instructions from businesses on what they’re looking for and how they’re managed.

Ultimately, I still think that Workaway is a great option for people who want to travel, save money, and live like a local for a bit. It definitely helps if you have energy and a sense of humor! But if you’re looking for a way to travel for a long period of time without A) being rich or B) working… keep looking. And tell me how when you figure it out!

On the Edge of the Mainland – Hong Kong, July 24 – July 30

Howdy folks,

After leaving Japan, Emily and I spent a brief week in Hong Kong before crossing over into mainland China for the first time (our current location: in the forests outside Guangzhou). Check out our pictures here.

Our time in Hong Kong was the first time I experienced culture shock on this trip. Even after the crowds and sheer size of Tokyo, Hong Kong assaults the senses in a way that took several days to get used to. Sometimes pictured but not fully captured in our photos – the frequent smell of sewage, the oppressive consumerism, the trash on the sidewalks, the aggressive touts along Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, and the large difference in public manners when compared to Japan.

All that said? I found the shock of Hong Kong to be an exhilarating new experience and look forward to going back before flying from Macau to Taipei at the end of September. I’m sure my initial apprehension is nothing a little seasoning from the mainland can’t fix!

Love,

E&E