10 things I learned while studying abroad

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  1. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.
  2. You change a lot and maybe only realize it after you’ve left.
  3. When learning a different language, it is best to speak it as much as possible without fear of sounding silly or wrong.
  4. You see the (big) world in an entirely different way and feel you have a place in it more than ever.
  5. You have to face some of your greatest insecurities because you’ll be the most vulnerable being farthest away from what you’re familiar with.
  6. Everyone is human and complex and so are you.
  7. You’re stronger than you think.
  8. Being open-minded, patient, independent and brave are very valuable characteristics to adopt.
  9. Reflection and introspection will come naturally.
  10. Even though it was only a few months, it’ll be so impactful that you’ll think about it years and years after.

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first comment on youtube

I just got my first ever YouTube comment on a video I made about the calm life in Oahu, Hawaii. What a great surprise on Earth Day! I am so happy about it because it’s a video I made out of complete joy and inspiration for a trip I care so deeply about with full of nature, peace and beauty. The way life is there is so different from the way my life is here. I don’t get to wake up to a serene beach and full sunshine every day. I don’t see peacocks just walking around exploring freely. There isn’t much wildlife where I am at all, really.

And to see a comment means so much because it’s like a sign that this film matters more than just me; even if it’s just one person. So thank you, whoever you are, for making my day. I think this German YouTuber has a channel for decor diys. Check her out, if you’re interested—Deko Ideen mit Flora-Shop

orlando, florida|harry potter|volcano bay

It’s odd. The first thought I had when I got into a taxi in Orlando was that the clouds in Florida looked awesome. Maybe it has to do with the humidity and it causes changes in the cloud chemistry. Not sure and not motivated enough to Google the answer. All I know is that they were art installations in the sky. I was heading to the famous Universal Studios to check out the adored Harry Potter land and the new Volcano Bay Park.

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To my surprise, relatives informed me that there would also be The Simpsons attractions as well as a Dr. Seuss one. I really liked them and definitely cute places and character statues to take photographs with.

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This was my first time in Orlando. I knew there would be sun, heat and people, but my goodness, please do not go in the summer. As I am still traumatized by the lip and shoulder sunburns I earned being a tourist here, sunscreen cannot battle the high intensity of the Florida sun. Also, the humidity is no joke. I told my father about it and he kind of gave me his “no kidding” face. I admit. I knew nothing. Locals have told me that any other time is great to go. There is comfortable weather, theme park prices are lower and the crowds are a lot less.  Logical, yes? But schedule was good then, so off I went.

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We decided to take it easy on the first day by taking a nice stroll in the area. If you’re a foodie, I am sorry to say there weren’t that many delicious options. However, anyone who is familiar with the area, please correct me if I’m wrong. I base my opinions from personal experiences and also reviews I’ve read online.

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Kings Pizza

I do recommend Kings Pizza on International Drive and also ice cream from Twistee Treat. We got a vanilla flavor with chocolate dip and it immediately started melting onto our fingers. Enjoy it quickly!

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As I soothe my sunburned wounds, I can confidently say, I have learned a lot about travel from this trip. Having never been to Florida before, I was intrigued but also skeptical. Admittedly, it wasn’t on the top of our list, but since it was summer and we had adventure in our minds, we decided to check out what they had to offer. Overall, we had a good time.

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baby doges and cates

 

admiration for El Capitan, Alex Honnold and Free Solo

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The above photograph is of El Capitan or “El Cap” as I’ve heard it endearingly called. Seeing this in person is phenomenal. I could stare at it for hours.

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Here it is again on the left at a different angle.

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And here, again.

Now imagine someone climbing this. Imagine a lot of people. I became fascinated with El Capitan so much that after one of my long days of travel, I just felt like watching videos about it. I am very fond of documentaries and short films about nature, so I was interested to see what I could learn. I came upon a random video about a rock climber named Alex Honnold.

Climbing El Capitan
There is a climber wearing blue at the top, but if you look further down, I think there are two other climbers below, too.

No, I don’t think any of them are Alex, but they could have been. I’d never know. This was taken on one of my last days at Yosemite. We drove past El Cap (which you can never not stare when you drive by El Cap) and I told my love, “Hey, I’m just curious, what if someone’s climbing RIGHT NOW.” So we got out of our car, I looked up and saw no one.

I decided to test my camera’s zoom capabilities. I zoooooomed as much as I could and this was what I captured. It is so surreal. Honestly, one of the coolest things I’ve seen in person. I had this “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” moment.

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I Googled Alex’s name to see if he had a documentary of his own to watch. Different movie times popped up for the film Free Solo as the first thing. I thought it was weird that a movie was out now involving Yosemite while we were in Yosemite. Watched trailer. Got interested. Checked movie times at my hometown. Nada. The movie would be gone by the time I arrived back home. We decided to go to Smith Rafael Film Center since it was the nearest. I loved the film. So much.

So now, this documentary recently won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. To me, it was just this cool film I saw about the place I was currently traveling in and now it’s this huge thing. Feels odd to see something normal at first explode into something famous like that. It’s amusing to search on YouTube today compared to when I did when I first saw the film. There weren’t nearly as many videos out then as there are now about free solo climbing, Alex Honnold or the film Free Solo.

It makes me so happy to see that mainstream media is more open to the real adventures in the outdoors and highlighting one of nature’s treasures in the process.

Redwood National Parks | photo diary post | travel

Redwoods was comfortable, but at times it took my breath away because of the exhilarating beauty. 

I feel so connected to something so close to my source, my soul. Redwoods gave me peace and calm.

One hike here is not like another. It’s all a different experience.

Fern Canyon

 

Smith River

The Redwoods changed me. I felt so much peace and connection to the area and the trees. The air reminds me of being at mom and dad’s house and the sea breeze.

Banana slug

…I even love the banana slugs, even though in the past slugs have creeped me out so much.

I was skeptical of coming at all. I thought maybe it’d be too long to be in one place, but I adored it. No access to phone and internet made it easy to relax and chill.

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To read my poem, a redwood tree, click here.

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.” – John Steinbeck

Interview with interpretive park ranger Vivian Wang

Ever since I started watching documentaries about food waste, climate change, fast fashion and others, I began to really look at how my actions were in connection to these issues. I believe this really sparked my passion for nature more than I ever have. I developed a new appreciation for the world.

a Redwood tree I saw during my trip to the Redwoods

National parks and hiking locations became the focus for (almost) all my travels and as a result, saw the most magnificent views I’ve ever seen in my life. My trip to the Redwoods is a great example. Seeing the redwood trees in person was such a moving experience for me. I am specifically grateful for the helpful park rangers who informed us of some amazing hiking trails. Without their passion and knowledge, I think my time there would have been less fulfilling. I found out that one of the bloggers I follow happen to be a park ranger. That’s why I am happy to welcome Vivian Wang to this interviewing series.

Vivian works at Yellowstone National Park as an interpretive park ranger. She and her friend, Jennifer, also founded the website, Tinycaravan. Their passion for the environment and hiking is infectious. I asked Vivian if she could answer a few questions about what it’s like to be a park ranger and the experiences associated with that position. Check out her answers below :)

Connie: First thing, for those of us who don’t know, what is an interpretive park ranger?

Vivian: The goal of an interpretive park ranger (interp) is to positively enhance a visitor’s experience. We do that through leading ranger programs, helping at the front desk, answering general questions, and simply engaging with visitors throughout the park. We educate the public by allowing them to form their own intellectual and emotional connections to their surroundings and meanings to certain resources. We want you to learn, appreciate your surroundings, and ultimately, have a great time.

Vivian Wang in uniform (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

How did you decide on the path to becoming a park ranger and what is the process like if someone was interested in becoming one?

I love the outdoors and everything that comes with it. Ever since my trip to Yosemite three years ago, I became hooked on national parks. I’ve always thought it would be so cool to be a park ranger and live in a national park. You see them everywhere and they just looked so cool with their flat hat, badge, and uniform.  My co-worker saw an opening at Yellowstone and encouraged me to apply. I thought, “Eh, why not. The worst that can happen is that I get rejected. Not much to lose.” I applied and the rest was history. There are tons of different park ranger positions ranging from law enforcement to trail maintenance to wildlife biologist to interp. You can find park ranger positions at usajobs.gov and type in ‘park ranger’. Depending on the position, there are different qualifications and requirements for them.

You mentioned in your blog (and with several beautiful photographs on your Instagram) that Zion National Park is your favorite, as well as, Yosemite being a second. How do these parks differ with others you’ve visited and why are they so special to you?

The first time I went to Zion, I was absolutely blown away. I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley of southern California where there are no massive red-colored rocks like Zion. Having never seen such natural structures like that, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was shocked that a place like Zion existed — so sacred and special in every way. During that trip, my friends and I hiked Angel’s Landing, Observation Point, and the Narrows; all challenging but so so fun. Combine my initial feeling and a memorable, thrilling trip, Zion tops the cake. Yosemite is special because it was where I found my calling for the outdoors. I had a lot of “firsts” with Yosemite. It was my first visit to a national park, my first time camping, first time seeing massive waterfalls (Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall), first time seeing tall tall trees, and first time hiking long full-day hikes. It was honestly a life-changing experience and part of the reason why my friend and I started Tinycaravan.

The Narrows of Zion National Park (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

To have a fun, yet safe, experience while hiking, what are the tools and supplies one should carry with them during their trip?

The most important thing is water. Bring at least 2L of water or more depending on how long your hike is. For day hikes, I usually bring food (nuts, snack bars, sandwich), first aid kit, jacket, swiss army knife, map (depending on the hike), headlamp, sunblock, camera, trekking poles, and of course, water. It’s also important to wear the right clothing, socks, and shoes. Always check the weather and terrain of your hike.

Can you list some tips or advice about visiting national parks?

– Depending on which park you go to, their national park website is super helpful in planning your trip to one. It’ll answer most of your questions.
– Always check weather, road conditions/closures, and trail updates.
– Google Maps does not work well in national parks; a paper map is the way to go. The map park rangers give you at the entrance gate should be good enough.
– Read the newspaper they give you at the entrance gate. It has lots of useful information about the park, safety, service, and amenities.
– Respect the rules and regulations of the park. Simply doing this helps preserve the park for future generations.
– Pack your patience. If you’re going during peak season, expect large crowds. Avoid them by starting your day early.
– Don’t expect to have cell service or WiFi in or around the park. Enjoy the outdoors!

Vivian at Half Dome at Yosemite National Park (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

Is there any fun/interesting fact that you can share about being a park ranger that maybe most people don’t know?

Especially during the summer, there are lots of seasonal rangers. If you go early summer like around June, interp rangers only had about a month to prepare their multiple programs and cram as much information in their head. It may even be their first time in the park or presenting their programs so be nice to them; they’re trying really hard. In general park ranger don’t know everything; it’s impossible.

What does a typical day look like for you and what’s been the best thing about the position?

My schedule looks different everyday, but the tasks we do are similar every day. Each day we have certain hours on the desk, certain hours walking and talking with visitors around the district, and present at least one ranger-led program. The best thing about being interp is that you get to create your own programs however you want. There are certain layouts and information that you have to incorporate in your programs, but other than that it’s a free-for-all. In my programs, I always incorporated messages along the lines of sustainability, preservation, and visitor use in the park.

Yellowstone National Park (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

Were there any things that you learned about yourself or the environment that you did not know before obtaining a position at the Yellowstone National Park?

One thing that Yellowstone has taught me is the importance of keeping things wild. Yellowstone is big on keeping everything as natural as it is and as it should be. Sometimes when people go to national parks and see road signs, visitor centers, restaurants, hotels, and gas stations, they tend to forget that they are in a natural place. People start to have expectations that they should have cell service or WiFi or easy access to things you normally find in the city. It’s important to remember that you’re in nature where dangerous things can happen out of your control. I always say, “Expect the unexpected.” You never know what is going to happen so the best thing is to be prepared. One of the reasons national parks are so special is because there’s not a lot of these natural, wild places left on Earth — untouched by human civilization. These natural formations can’t be found elsewhere in the world. I can’t stress enough how important it is to preserve these places or really, what’s left of it. Though it can be annoying and frustrating, following park’s rules and regulations is key. There’s a reason why they are there, both for your safety and the park. If you’re going to Yellowstone, I highly recommend reading the book Death in Yellowstone. It’s a little morbid and dark at some points in the book, but I think it’s an eye-opening and necessary read for the public.

Lastly, if there was one thing you’d want readers to know or to do about the environment, what would that be?

To know that you play a large part in preserving these natural places even by visiting them. We rely on the environment for everything from food to shelter to medicine and more. Why would we not want to protect the only thing that can sustain life? There are so many beautiful natural places all over the world; take the time to simply appreciate it for what it is. Don’t get caught up in the social media and what you’ve seen or heard. Cherish the experience and make it your own. After that, leave it better than it was found so future generations can enjoy it too. The environment is an open space for everyone and that in itself is pretty great.

Vivian, I was excited to read your answers. I think a lot of us, including me, had very little idea of what a park ranger has to go through. Thank you for the care and work that you do!

To connect with Vivian, check out her Instagram account at @vivwangg.

Vivian Wang (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

My hope is that when more people expose themselves to the outdoors, they are willing to learn about the area, and then want to protect it.  – Vivian Wang

To see more interviews in this series, click here.

papawei scenic lookout | maui, hawaii | travel

A short narration based on a piece I wrote called, our dreams, conveyed through these photographs.

The words above were: We flew in from a place that had everything we ever needed. A home to protect us from danger, food that would feed our empty stomachs and love that would warm our hearts until the end of our times. yet, we always want more. We always want to live out our dreams as we imagine, explore lands we have never seen and confirm to us that life is more than just what we see. Life is more than just the actors in our lives and the adventures they live. We are the stars of our lives. Every action has a reaction. So, here I am, flying in the sky to reach my dreams. To make a world as beautiful as I know it can be.

flowers through a broken camera

The blurriness reveals nothing to me. Standing in the middle of the field of flowers, taking photographs with a broken camera, my life was meaningful in ways I can’t understand anymore. But I know I was free. I was alone. I was with a full heart of optimism and hope. And I was loved. That was what I cherished the most. The energy from one to the other to another. The ways we can capture ourselves through others. These flowers look so young and forever in place. Why does nostalgia have to be kind of bittersweet? Luckily, a little more sweet than bitter, in this case.

Taiwan, mid-2000s.

some delicious food in Washington State | travel

Good food is almost an essential for me when I travel–no, it’s definitely important. Because to me it’s more than the food. It’s an experience with the place in a whole new point of view. It’s how I can relate with the people who live there. I remember a time during the first longggg road trip I ever went on and after a couple of days, it didn’t matter what we ate, the food all tasted the same. I don’t know if it was because (or the cause) of our homesickness, the really long drives, that we just didn’t know what we wanted in a trip or how we were as travelers. Maybe all those things. Regardless, I have noticed that when we research on some places we want to eat at beforehand, that our trips tend to feel a little bit more whole and fulfilling. A lot of times, we do research as we’re on the trip, too, for any cravings that come up. For this trip specifically, we were pretty much in the mood for Asian food. He wanted some poke, I wanted Asian pastries and we both wanted bubble tea. We won this time around. Note: hover over the photograph to see caption notes.

Beef Pancake Rolls at Dough Zone

We thought this was good and delicious. I especially liked the outer crust.

Pork Belly Congee at Ba Bar

Wow, this was one of our favorites. Had to pause for a second to reminisce. They forgot to include the Chinese doughnut that comes with it, but after a reminder, they happily gave it to me. It tasted even better after that. However, it also tasted good on its own.

Yukon gold potato, rosemary, pecorino romano pizza at Serious Pie

It’s on the pricey side for pizza, but it was reallly delicious and fresh. The thin crust was perfectly textured with the soft potato and rosemary topping. I have not eaten a pizza like this one before.

Asian pastries at A Piece of Cake Bakery and Cafe

One craving mission complete. The crust of the egg custard was noticeably different than ones I’ve tried before. It was less flaky, I think, and very shortbread cookie-ish, which made it tasty.

Bubble tea and shave ice at Oasis Tea Zone

Second craving mission complete. Shave ice was bonus. This place was particularly unique with its retro arcade pinball machine and I think they had Pac-Man, too. These sweet treats were really good. We were amused by this experience because an elderly couple came by our table and asked us what we ordered (having never seen shave ice before). They didn’t like their bubble tea flavors (they’ve only tried it once before and tried ones a relative suggested) and didn’t believe us when we said it was our first time there. They were really cute and I admire them for trying something new.

Pork Xiaolongbao at Din Tai Fung

We couldn’t pass up this opportunity to eat some pork dumplings at the iconic Din Tai Fung. They are known for very long lines and wait time. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long. It was super busy, but our waitress said this was a “slow” night. Oh boy! It was super delicious needless to say!

Last craving mission complete. The portions were great. In Hawaii, I think it was larger, but that’d make us too full. I thought the boneless short ribs were especially good.

Washington State stories and recommendations | travel

It’s getting colder nowadays. The sun sets earlier and the morning darkness creates the perfectly imperfect atmosphere to stay in bed. But we can’t and life goes on to another day of being (or an attempt at being) a productive human being. That was a lot of “beings.” But I long for summer, as I knew I would when I thought this months ago when I was taking the warmer weather for granted. So here, I look back on the places I’ve seen this summer at Washington State. A lot of things stand out to me: the way Seattle streets have slopes that are so deep you find yourself walking up city mountains, the natural beauty and awe of Mount Rainier, how architecturally focused the city buildings and street layouts are and experiencing some crazy driving on the highway. Make sure to hover over the photographs if you want to see some caption notes.

Highlights:

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier National Park
Waterfalls at Mount Rainier

When are we ever going to see another purple mountain?” he asked as we looked at the view. Mount Rainier reminds me of the person who always looks great in any situation. You look up and there this strong energy of beauty.

Advice: Go early. Finding parking and sitting in traffic coming in can be annoying, so be prepared! Also, the two-storey visitor center was full of small informational exhibits and comfortable seating to rest. They also have a mini food court and gift shop on-site.

The Wing Luke Museum of Asian Pacific American Experience

This was easily one of our favorite places in the whole trip. To visit Uncle Jimmy’s (James Malcolm Mar) store and hear/read the stories of the pan-Asian Pacific American immigrants and refugees was a very surreal experience for me. I felt like I could stay for hours. I wanted to absorb their words. I wanted to value their experiences. The architecture of the building itself and well-detailed exhibits are worth taking the time and walking through each area. There is so much history I learned from this trip that I never learned from school.

Advice: Take one of their tours. The gallery attendants know their stuff and they are very nice. There is also a gift store if you wanted something to remember the trip by. Also, ask the attendants some food recommendations in Chinatown area as we did and we found a gem because of it!

Touristy Must-Sees

Space Needle

As having been to an observatory before, I wasn’t so ecstatic to visit the Space Needle. It just seemed like something touristy to do and a local store owner had told me it wasn’t worth the money. We arrived early and there weren’t that many people there yet. Seeing the view and taking in the fresh air made it was worth it for me (as a tourist). I ended up being the one who didn’t want to leave and to stay as long as I could. Standing on the platform, being 520 feet from the ground, seeing all the landmarks like Mount Rainier, the art sculptures of Olympic Sculpture Park and seeing how much life there is all at the same time is kind of calming, yet exciting. Maybe I was feeling a little sentimental because it was our last day.

Advice: There are multiple electronic ticket booths outside and depending on the time of day, the prices will change. We went in the morning, so I think it was cheaper because of that. Also, if you’re driving there, there are some parking areas down the street. I’d do some research because we later learned some areas were cheaper than others.

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

With loads of stores to visit, food to eat, the very first Starbucks–it’s a pretty popular place. Truthfully, we didn’t care about the Starbucks thing, but we did see a long line, so a lot of other people did. I appreciate and love the variety of stores, craft vendors and farmer’s market goodies. For those heading over there, I dare you to find the Bob Ross and Daryl Dixon (cardboard cut outs).

International Fountain

International Fountain

Music blaring, children laughing and running around and everyone else relaxing and sitting nearby. It’s easy to “waste” time here since the fountain show is so fun to watch. If it was a hotter day, you bet I’d run around there looking silly.

Seattle Monorail

Seattle Monorail

It’s a quick and cheap ride to see the city in a whole new perspective. It reminds me of the monorail ride at Seuss Landing at Universal Studios. There was a family of adult tourists that came on and they were funny. They apparently didn’t know what ride this was, thought it had multiple stops and couldn’t originate which one of them suggested to go.

Chinatown

After our visit to the Wing Luke Museum, we decided to explore Chinatown a bit. We ate some delicious Taiwanese food, played some chess with life-size pieces and walked all around. The sloped streets under the hot sun definitely made it a workout!

Nature’s gems

Hover over the photograph to see the  name of the place.

Narada Falls

 

 

Snoqualmie Falls Park
Reflection Lakes

Special Mention

Seattle Japanese Garden

Seattle Japanese Garden

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Ahhhh I love this place so much. We ended up purchasing some koi food at the entrance booth and it ended up being a lot of fun. The stillness and calmness of the environment allowed us to take our time. Quiet like a library, this experience called for some sit down and walk through time to admire the details and architecture of the environment. Whenever I tried to feed the koi, a quick duck would turn up and steal their food. It kinda turned into a game of throwing the food at the right time.

If you want to see more Washington State-ish posts, I linked some below :) I’m also going to publish a post about food for this trip in the future. For all those foodies out there, beware, there are some pretty good drool-worthy photographs on the way.

Another photo of Mount Rainier in the things I’ll never see.
An artsy photograph from in the space needle.
Narada Falls inspired a poem I wrote called waterfalls. I also posted more photographs of Narada Falls in the post, too.