Saturday, August 4, 2012

I am moving to another country! I know, you are all surprised. I will be referring to this place only as the Kingdom, but you are all smart people and can probably figure out where it is and why I am using code.

This is going to a be a challenge for me in every sense of the word and I hope that you all will be along for the ride.

Click here to go to the new blog

Friday, April 8, 2011

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

So I guess that's it for this blog. Writing a blog is very strange because it's like pouring words into a vacuum. Intellectually, I know that there are real people reading this blog, but on another level, I feel like I'm shooting off diatribes into space, hoping that someone will one day read it.

I don't know how I would have traveled by myself in a time without internet. It makes me feel connected with the world at large. For a couple days, when I didn't have access, I felt massively isolated like there was so much going on that I didn't know about. Maybe this makes me less of a true traveler than some other, off-the-grid, hardcore backpacker, but I think it gives me an advantage in a lot of ways. My perceptions are influenced by the world around me and therefor accessible to others who have the same base knowledge. If I just existed in this bubble of my own making, I'd probably come out speaking Moon Speak.

If I do start another blog for another journey, it will be posted here as well as on my facebook. And many of my readers know me personally, or know a relative of mine, so you will probably get an earful through the grapevine. Thank you everyone for reading and for being so encouraging about my endeavors.

My plans for now are to stay in the D.C. area, at least until the end of the year. I have a summer job lined up and I hope I will be able to get a job in September that is worthwhile and challenging. I can't say how long that will take - especially in this economy - but I have nothing but optimism for the future. I have a whole new life to build for myself and, even though I know its going to be hard, I think I am up to the challenge.

Thanks again for reading!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Buda and Pest

Budapest is quite a unique city. On one of my first days here, I went with Andrea to one of her classes. Her student, in between telling me about the love of her life who has de-friended her on facebook, said that she couldn't imagine why anyone would want to come to Budapest. In her teenage mind, there is nothing interesting about Budapest or Hungary in general.

Budapest is not a vital cultural or financial hub like some other cities, and it doesn't have famous sites like the Eiffel Tower or the London Eye, but it still has a wealth of interesting things to do and see. Budapest is actually made up of two (possibly three? I am unclear on that) cities that have melded together over the years. The rolling hills of Buda are on the West side of the Danube and are more upper-class (read: expensive) and residential while Pest, on the East Bank, is more industrial and, today, busy.

Hungary, like most of Europe, was in the thick of the World Wars and it left an indelible mark on the country. Archduke Franz Ferdinand may have been an Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but he was a royal prince of Hungary. So, obviously they were involved in that. World War I ended in the dismantling of said empire into different countries, with Hungary loosing lands it believed to be ancestrally Hungarian.

Hungary then entered World War II on the side of Nazi Germany because they were promised the lands that had been taken from them in the 1920s (parts of modern day Romainia, Croatia, Austria, and Czechoslovakia) would be returned when Germany ruled the world. Since the loss of these lands had induced a kind of national neurosis, the Hungarians were all to quick to aid the Germans. But the Hungarians didn't entirely approve of everything the Germans did and at some point opened up secret negotiations with the Western powers.

The Germans found out and invaded Hungary in 1944. It was at this time that the persecution of the Jewish population in Hungary (which apparently was pretty sizable) started in earnest. There is a very powerful memorial along the Danube, where a large amount of empty shoes are fixed to the pavement right on the edge of the river. This is where, during the Nazi occupation, many Jews were made to stand so they could be shot and pushed into the river.

Later that same year, the Russians crossed the border into Hungary. The general in charge of the Hungarian army signed an armistice which was completely ignored by the Hungarian army. The Soviets invaded and expelled the Nazis anyway.

This led to several long years of communism that has changed the landscape of Budapest forever. The Budapest near the Danube has very picturesque buildings reminiscent of (though toned down from) Vienna (you know, Austro-Hungarian Empire). But in the distance you can see the rise of the block housing the Soviet Union was so well known for. And some of the buildings towards the center - the ones that were destroyed during World War II have been replaced with very plain, almost obsessively unadorned buildings.

In the subway, instead of machines to check passes, they have burly men standing in your way reading each pass as it goes by. This is a kick back from the days of communism where everyone needed a job. The attitudes of some shop keepers also hail form that era, where you didn't necessarily have to be good at your job (or nice to customers) to keep it.

Modern Budapest presents a multi-faceted landscape. Rent in the city is very cheap and this has resulted in the popularity of what is referred to as 'ruined bars'. These are empty buildings - often run down and decrepit - that are never the less decorated in weird and wacky ways, filled with couches and chairs and alcohol, and opened as bars. The effect is that the city is filled with these off-the-wall, half condemned, drinking spots that are wholly unique. In these cases, no one can deface any part of the bar, because when they do, it just adds to the atmosphere. Andrea, David, and I went to two different ones the other night (makes us sound like party animals doesn't it? In reality we were just stopping in) and the places were massive. Two floors at least and something to see around every corner.

We drank Palinka which is a traditional Hungarian brandy that is very strong. Since I have entered Europe, drinking and I have become much better friends and yet I have not once been drunk. I always hated the American 'go-out-to-get-drunk' attitude that seemed so prevalent in people my age and older. Here being drunk is a byproduct, not the main intention.

Many buildings in Budapest also have courtyards in the middle which I think gives them a sense of community (though I don't know if this is taken advantage by the residents). Smoking indoors is very popular here but the city is about to impose a smoking ban in June. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Underneath Buda are a labyrinth of caves that actually have been named a UNESCO world heritage site. They were used during the World Wars as hospitals and hideouts and are some of the most extensive in the world.

All in all, the city is an interesting place to be. It doesn't have the extravagance of Vienna or the tourist appeal (read: Disney World-like atmosphere) of Prague, but it feels lived-in and it's still beautiful with an interesting and often tragic history.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Philosophizing in Budapest

My little sojourn into Budapest has been very relaxing so far. Though there is a lot to see here, its not a place I studied in school and therefor I don't really feel this need to get out and see EVERYTHING. There are things I would like to see and places I would like to go, but really the trip is about visiting Andrea, who I just realized I have known for about 10 years.

I don't feel so out of place here as I did in Korea. Though I loved it very much, I was always going to be a foreigner. But in Budapest, like in the states, there is a melting pot of people. At least twice a day I am mistaken for Hungarian, and though it was much higher in Cyrpus (for obvious reasons), I still get excited when it happens. After spending so much time in countries where I stand out like a sore thumb (India, Korea, and Turkey to a certain extent because I was in the tourist ghetto), its nice and even thrilling to be able to blend in with the native population. I don't feel like I'm on constant display or that someone is always watching what I do which was the case in India and Korea. I don't feel the need to ignore people who come up to me in the street because I'm afraid they're going to sell me something. It's actually very peaceful.

The hostel I'm staying in is really nice, with a communal kitchen and living room area. If I so chose I could cook all my meals. So far, I just make myself breakfast. I more or less had the place to myself for a couple days which was rather eerie. I felt like I had inherited a fully furnished, obsessively labeled apartment. Now there are others here but I still have a room (with eight beds) all to myself. I also have my own key so I can come and go as I please.

Seeing Andrea anywhere but D.C. is kind of surreal in general, and visiting her in a foreign country is especially unnerving. Not really in a bad way, however. Its like, for the first time, I view the two of us as adults. We have our own separate lives in entirely different countries. We can exist independently from our parents, and even our country. Our concerns are more worldly, not at all the childish concerns of middle schoolers, which we were when we met. For the first time it's hit me that I am not a kid anymore and that I am truly capable of going anywhere and doing anything. And it makes me also reflect on my generation.

Though we are mostly made up of, as David put it, 'boomerang kids' we still are one of the most mobile populations the world has ever seen. While traveling I often meet people my own age who don't consider distance as a formidable boundary and who are not deterred by international borders. For those of us who attempt it, it is very possible to truly become global citizens. Though I hadn't ever made a conscious effort (and in fact I always considered myself pretty uninformed), I realize that I really do know a fair bit about what's going on in the world - protests in Syria, earthquakes in Maynmar, an almost-civil-war in Cote D'Ivoire. I am fond of telling people that I get all my news from The Daily Show and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, but it's not really true anymore. I've become a little bit of a news junkie - especially international news - and I really get caught up in the stories.

Being here and talking up a storm with Andrea and David makes me realize how far reaching and intelligent our generation can be. We have the power to change the world. And we have. The revolution in Egypt was organized by people my age who were fed up with the regime they had grown up in; art and social expression has taken on a whole new meaning with the advent of the internet and all the options available because of the increased connectivity of the human race.

People are reaching outside of traditional institutions to make connections with people they would normally never meet. Through sites like, people are taking the poverty of others into their own hands and making no-interest micro loans. With the help of sites like people are making global connections that help to increase people's ability to travel. There are dozens of communities popping up that are aimed at creating a better world.

I don't really know what the future holds or even where I will be come the end of summer, but it's comforting to know that I have a whole world of options open to me. The biggest problem in my life is choosing which path to go down and for that, I am very grateful.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


My last day in Cyprus was very relaxing with a big family dinner at the end. I had a blast and I will have to be sure to come back some day soon.

My trip to Hungary was annoying as the flight was from 4:15 am and arrived at 6:15am, three hours before my hostel opened. I went to my friend, Andrea's, house and chilled there for a while (eating delicious omelets provided by David, Andrea's boyfriend) until my hostel opened.

Since then, we have been walking around the city and chilling. Budapest is really such a beautiful place. Its full of elaborate architecture and picturesque European squares.

I didn't think of this before, but its been almost exactly ten years since I was last on the European continent (this makes me sound very old and worldly, doesn't it?). And I had really forgotten what it was like. Since I came here, I have experienced something close to reverse culture shock - like when you come back to the states from a long period abroad. But here I was coming back to Europe after a long period in the States and abroad.

I was walking through the grocery store thinking, I remember this. Everything was familiar but far removed. The Kinder eggs, the Haribo candy, the fresh European bread, the large cheese selection. All of it brought me back to when I lived in Germany. It was all so comfortable and familiar I forgot sometimes that I wasn't home already.

And seeing Andrea again just served to confuse things. There was a point on the first day when I was sitting with her in a cafe and, just for a second, I thought we were in D.C. Andrea and I went out a lot to coffee shops and things and since nothing around me felt foreign it just followed that I was in America. Of course, the spell quickly passed, but the rest of the day was a little surreal. I had a hard time believing I was in a foreign country.

This aside, my first impressions of Budapest are very positive and I can't wait to explore the city more as the days go by. I am so happy to finally be here after literally years of planning to come. David knows a lot about the history of Budapest and I am very interested to hear more as I didn't bother to buy a guide book. If he doesn't know something, I will have to learn stuff the old fashion way - the internets.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day Three: Larnaka and the Sea

Day three I spent with my mother’s first cousin John and his wife Lucy. We went to see Larnaka, which is where I flew in and a nice little town by the sea. Cyprus is so small that really anywhere is close. The drive from Nicosia to Paphos, which is on the other side of the country, is only two hours. To Larnaka, it’s only about 45 min.

We saw the tomb of Muhammad’s step mother which was in a very peaceful spot of a salt lake. John said that in the summer, the lake was filled with flamingos that stop there on their migratory path. And I did see one lone flamingo just chillin’ in the lake. The mosque was simple, not like the richly decorated ones I saw in Istanbul, and it exuded calm. John read the calligraphy written on the arches and I remembered that my family also has a strong connection to Cairo. My grandfather, Uncle John, and cousin John (in Cyprus) were all born in Cairo. Cousin John says he can remember the day my grandfather and my Uncle John (his first cousin) left Cairo for good, that he remembers waving as they left.

The name thing can get really confusing in Cyprus. Though, as my Cousin John told me, it's never done to name a son after a father or a daughter after a mother, the grandparent’s names are fair game. Andreas has two grandsons named after him and Evangelia has two granddaughters named after her. It’s kind of confusing when they are all in the room together.

We walked on a promenade for a while that meandered between the sea and a bunch of tourist restaurants and bars. The air was so fresh and the weather so nice, I could have stayed there all day. I had no trouble imagining it packed with tourists. John was quite concerned about how many foreigners were around because it wasn’t typical for Cyprus. All the waiters and most of the people at the restaurants were all non-Cypriots. John did understand that it was different for the US. In the States, we are more or less all ‘foreigners’ who all came there for different reasons, so none of us really have the right to resent anyone else for being there (that doesn’t stop some people, though).

In Cyprus, it’s a different matter. The population there had been the same for generations (excepting, of course, the whole Turkish invasion thing). It’s only in the past couple of years that so many immigrants have come to Cyprus for work. This development, as you can imagine, does not sit well with Cypriots. Immigration is a hot topic among the locals.

We ate lunch at a beautiful seaside restaurant where I think I offended my cousins by only eating a salad. But after two days of non-stop eating I was ready for something light. He kept on mentioning how cheap the restaurant was and told me, quite plainly, that he didn’t want to me to leave the restaurant hungry. Like in many cases in America, in Cyprus if you don’t have meat with your meal, then it isn’t really a meal.

We drove all around the seaside seeing various things (I was asked very often if I was SURE I wasn’t hungry) and taking in the beautiful sea air. We visited John’s son, Michael, who owns his own mechanic shop in a small town near a huge beach resort.

They also took me to Ayia Napa, which is the tourist spot in the summer. In the winter, however, it was a ghost town with tons of lovely cafes sitting empty waiting for the tourists to arrive in the next month or so. The place was ironically named after a nearby ancient monastery and only came to have such an infamous nightlife (as John said, ‘this is where the crazy people go’) after Famagusta, the previous hot spot, was captured by the Turks in the war.

I was still tired from the night before so I called it an early night, eating some delicious tuna rolls Evangelia made and crashing.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day Two: More Cousins, More Martyrs, and Clubbing with Elisavet

Today we went to a church built in memorial of the people missing from the war with North Cyprus. I have to say I am getting well and truly brain washed about this whole Cyprus-Turkey thing. If I had gone to Turkey after this I don’t think I would have enjoyed myself quite as much. There was a whole wall in the church with pictures of the missing people and there was another building with murals of scenes from the war – a family sitting down for dinner with an extra plate set for a son who would not return; protesters marching with pictures of missing people; even a scene from a Turkish prison where Greek Cypriots are being held. Like I said before, the people of Cyprus are not going to soon forget what happened.

For lunch we went to a sea side town where Evangelia’s childhood friend’s (who was a priest) son had a taverna. The atmosphere was great and we talked for a long time with the son and his parents. I found it amusing that the priest, when he first walked up, did not look very priestly. He was wearing old sweatpants and an old sweat shirt and he was covered in leaves and grass. He had obviously just come from some sort of gardening. He came into the open air terrace where we were eating and greeted the group of tourists next to us – as a sort of ‘welcome to my son’s restaurant’ kind of thing – who all shrank back in their seats like he was some sort of vagrant.

We ate very well at the restaurant – I don’t think, after Cyprus, I will ever be hungry again – and drove along the shore to a farmer’s market (and in Cyprus, the term is a lot more literal than in America) to get vegetables.

For dinner, I was handed off to another set of cousins, Elisavet and her father George and Mother Vana. We had dinner (just had lunch!) at a very popular restaurant that was just right next to the Green Line. The shops around the restaurant were all broken down and empty, but the place was clearly hoppin’.

After this Elisavet took me out for a night on the town. She wanted to show me that there was more to Cyprus for the younger crowds. We had some nice conversations traveling in between bars and clubs and I got to meet a lot of her friends. I was pretty underdressed (jeans, sneakers) but I decided not to worry about it because there was really nothing to be done. I would really like to go back (during the summer, as Elisavet and all her friends kept telling me) with some friends to do the thing properly.

I also found out that the grudge against the Turkish is not just for the younger generations. Elisavet pointed out to me the Turkish flag up on the hill, which, by the way, lights up. Elisavet’s grandfather, my grandfather’s first cousin (or maybe he was an uncle? Unclear on that one), was killed by the Turks back in the 1950’s and it still is a source of much resentment.

We ended the night late and I crawled back home with the key Evangelia gave me.