MissAdventure has MOVED!

I know, I know – I have a hard time staying in one place for an extended period of time, but this time I’m not moving – my blog is. I’m really excited to show you all the new, beautiful website over at MissAdventureTravel.com. A whole lot more than the URL is new, too. I think you’re really going to like it.

Bear with me for a few weeks while I smooth out the kinks, and don’t forget to sign up to receive email notifications. If you’re already a follower/subscriber, no need to worry. You’ve already traveled to the new virtual location with me (you were worried, right?).

What are you waiting for? Go check it out! And let me know what you think – Good? Bad? Ugly? Suggestions? I want to hear it all. Seriously.

Take me to MissAdventureTravel.com!

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Gay Marriage from America to Thailand

Dom is the gay boy in my Grade 5 class in Thailand. His personality shines as bright as his toothy smile, and he remains at the top of his class in both popularity and academics with his ability to charm and his quick wits. It’s not uncommon for Dom to burst into song and dance, thrusting his hips and pouting his lips, in between his times tables and language lessons. When I divide the students into two teams, boys and girls, for a game of hangman or another English activity, the sides would be uneven if it weren’t for the students hollering, “Teacher! Dom is a girl.”

gay student in thailandI look at Dom and ask if he would like to join the girls’ team. “Of course,” he says with a shoulder shrug and a glance up from his work, as if it were a stupid question.

I no longer ask such stupid questions, but I can’t help but wonder why so many people do. Are gay people born that way? Isn’t it bad for a child to be raised by a gay couple? And the most pertinent: Should gay people have the right to marry?

We shouldn’t need more examples of humans being human, but we do. Dom is just one of thousands worldwide who’s proving that homosexuality is more than just a sexual preference. At only 11 years old, Dom is comfortable being ‘different’ because it’s who he is. He hasn’t yet had to consider what this means for his future. Even in Thailand – a country of 95% Buddhist followers who believe his rebirth into a male body is just a part of his karmic reincarnation – gays are respected, but they cannot marry.

We shouldn’t need one more person to say that the right to marry a loved one is a basic human right, but for some ungodly reason, we do. If you think it’s wrong to enter a heterosexual marriage, then don’t. You’re entitled to your opinion, yes. But so are they.

We shouldn’t need anyone to explain that a child raised by two loving parents is better than that child bouncing between foster homes, or growing up in some other unstable environment, but we do. Many people still argue that children need a mom and a dad, but couples (gay or straight) don’t adopt children who already have parents; they provide a loving family for those who don’t.

Fortunately, the world does appear to be catching on. Just this month, France became the 14th country to legalize same sex marriage, and in April, New Zealand hopped on board, joining 12 other countries (Canada, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Argentina, Uruguay) that legally acknowledge courtship between gays. At least 10 more, including the U.S. (12 states already do) have proposed legislation to do the same.

It seems we’re finally on the right path, and in the words of Kate Pickert for Time, “thanks to a massive shift in public opinion, gay marriage went from inconceivable to inevitable in less than two decades.”

I believe, in time, the skeptics worldwide will begin to open their minds, to see the changes for good and to answer their own stupid questions with the obvious answers. One day, when Dom is old enough to marry, I hope he too will be able to do so, with whomever he chooses, and without question. I’m optimistic that America, in particular, will persevere, and be the example it set out to be all those years ago; an example of things we do need – equality for all.

students in ThailandOTHER MISSADVENTURES


Gay Marriage From America to Thailand
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

What to Pack for Asia: 6 Essential Items

One of the reasons we travel is to experience other cultures. We’re prepared to see how the locals live, what kinds of food they eat and how, where they shop and maybe even attend their local festivals (like this and this). We can hope to be invited to more intimate traditions such as a wedding (like this and this), or into their homes (like here and here).

However, we often forget it might not be common to find things we consider norms or even necessities in our lives, like good coffee or hot water or toilet paper. I read a lot of information before I packed my bags for Thailand the first time, and none of it told me how difficult/impossible it would be to find the following:

1. Deodorant – It’s not uncommon to see shelves lined with deoderant in every 7-11 or quick mart, but finding one without a whitening ingredient is very difficult. In Thailand and China, you’ll be amazed at all the products with whitening agents, including makeup, lotions, gels and creams for all parts of the body, but deodorant is the one I find the most entertaining. Who really needs whiter armpits?

2. Tampons – Ladies, consider yourselves warned. Asians don’t use tampons, so unless you’re in a very touristic place, you’ll have a hard time finding any to purchase. In Thailand, even if you do find them, you’re only option will be O.B. (the kind without an applicator), so either come prepared or go local and use pads.

3. Toilet Paper - Traditional Thais don’t use it, however, it’s not necessary to ship yourself a bulk package of rolls. You can buy toilet paper, napkins and small packs of folded tissues almost everywhere, so I recommend always keeping a roll or pack in your purse. In more metropolitan cities such as Bangkok and most airports you’ll find t.p. in the public restrooms, but good luck in the rest of Southeast Asia, China and India.

squat toilet

4. Medicine – If you prefer a specific kind of headache or other kind of medicine, bring it from home. All countries are different, but Thailand prefers a kind called Paracetamol which differs greatly from my brand of choice – Ibuprofin. In the rural areas, I couldn’t find anything that worked. In China and India, you can find almost anything you want, over the counter and at a price equivalent to pennies, but there are no guarantees they’ll have exactly what you want, when you need it.

5. Bras & Underwear - Another one for the ladies. Asians are often built much smaller than us westerners, and therefore it’s hard to find undergarments (and clothes) that fit comfortably. You might be able to find a bra in your cup size, but chances are it still won’t fit in all the other areas. Underwear are easier to find, but unless you’re going for the half-covered look, I’d bring plenty from home.

6. Neosporin – I love this stuff, and Asia has no idea what it is. I’ve bought similar kinds in Thailand, China and India, but none of it compared to the name-brand stuff we’re used to in The States. If you’re like me and you use it for everything from small cuts to lip ointment to zits, stock up before you come.

If you’re traveling for a long period of time, it would be silly to stock up on a year supply of certain items, but at least now you’ll know what to expect when you do run out. And, you can learn from my mistakes and be sure to stock up on tampons before you head off for a two-week vacation on a quiet island where buying them is absolutely impossible, making a tan and a swim in the ocean equally so.

Happy packing!


What to Pack for Asia: 6 Essential Items
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

Weekly Photo Challenge: In the Background

Chiang Mai WaterfallChiang Mai is one of my favorite cities in Thailand, with its cooler temperatures, laid back vibe and its walled-in Old Town encircled by a 4-mile mote. It’s what many consider Thailand’s adventure capital, and the best place to ride an elephant, take a cooking class, watch a Muay Thai fight or a lady-boy talent show, and to participate in Songkran (where the mote comes in handy).

However, one of my favorite things to do there is rent a motorbike and drive outside the city, toward the famous Doi Suthep temple and stop at several of the beautiful sites along the way, including this Huay Kaew waterfall.

This photo is for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: “In the Background.” The goal was to shoot something that focuses on the foreground, but where the background plays an important role in making the photo whole.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Chiang Mai?

An Indian Wedding in Varanasi

Indian Wedding

Varanasi, India – RJ is engaged to a beautiful girl, but getting married is the last thing on his mind. “I’m only 26,” he said. “I’m so young to marry.”

It’s not unlike a conversation I’ve had with several of my American friends, but RJ is Indian and his wife has already been chosen. “She’s very nice girl,” he said. “But I don’t want to marry her.”

Indian WeddingI felt sympathy for him, but I had been in India long enough to garner an appreciation for arranged marriages, still the most common type in this culture-rich nation.

Despite its negative reputation in the West, arranged marriage tends to work quite well in India. Parents choose a partner for their son/daughter based on a variety of things we might call superficial – looks (including darkness of skin), family history, societal status (caste), financial background, etc. – and more often than not, the bond grows into a strong friendship, sometimes even love.

“I’m thinking different than most people,” said RJ, who recently moved to Varanasi at his father’s will to take over the family business there. Like other Indian males, his entire future, including his career, has already been decided, and he thinks he should at least have the freedom to choose his wife. “My thinking is different than others,” he told me, as if to say most others enter into arranged nuptials willingly.

But I don’t think it’s so. With the development of Western customs in India, and the success of Hollywood blockbusters, Indians know how it works in other countries and many of them vie to make their own choices. However, rebellion isn’t an option. Like any other Indian child who opposes his parents’ wishes, RJ knows he can only postpone the wedding date for a few years before he must succumb.

We chatted for a while under the dim streetlight, staring at the ever-burning fire of life on the burning ghat in Varanasi, where I went to get a second look at the public cremations, and RJ went to pray to his beloved Gods, and for his future.

I felt his pain as he talked, but tried to ease it with the notion that my country, as he often referred, doesn’t have a strong institution on marriage. That our divorce rate is over 50% and “my people” often marry more than once, or live unhappily because of decisions they’ve made.

In India, marriages tend to last. Each partner knows his/her role in the relationship, and they work together to make a home and a family without giving much thought to what else might be out there, because acting on those thoughts isn’t an option.

Indian Wedding“Have you ever been to Indian wedding?” he asked. “My friend will get married this weekend.”

“But I don’t have a sari,” I stammered, buying myself time to consider the opportunity. I will rarely say no in such exciting circumstances, but I wanted to be sure this wasn’t a date with expectations before I did.

“It’s no need,” he said, “but if you want to buy one I know a good shop for a nice one. You can see Indian style.”

I decided he was harmless and agreed to go. Weddings are usually the most colorful, jovial displays of cultural tradition one can be fortunate to encounter while traveling through a foreign country, and I expected the same in India.

I chose a purple silk sari, the most common textile to wear to a wedding, and purchased the 5 meter (6 yard) length of fabric that would later be tucked, folded, draped and pinned into a variety of styles before settling on this one.

Indian Wedding

Me in Rickshaw and Sari

It was already late when we arrived, and I worried we had missed it. “They are running a little late,” said RJ, as if 10pm were a perfectly normal time to start a wedding.

Most Indian traditions (there are many) involve an elaborate parade on the groom’s journey to the wedding quarters. He’s hoisted on a chariot or a decorated elephant, accompanied by a troop of his drunk and dancing friends, and followed by a loud band to announce his pending nuptials.

Indian Wedding Elephant

Eventually, the groom entered on the shoulders of his friends, yelling and dancing in good spirits. The bride arrived solemn in a bejeweled red sari, with enough gold jewelry to bury a king, including an oversize nose ring with a chain to her ear, a sign of a wife’s commitment to her husband (many women keep a small nose piercing after the wedding, as well as a bindi between her eyebrows and a ring on her left hand).

They quickly took their places on the golden thrones in the corner, without so much as an embrace.

Indian WeddingIndian Wedding Bride

Indian Wedding Groom ArrivalThere was a short ceremony where golden platters were exchanged and the bride walked in a circle around her new husband, but the majority of the night consisted of them posing for the cameras while the crowd shuffled in and out behind them.

Indian Wedding

Indian Wedding CeremonyThe bride never once smiled.

When I asked my friend, Swati, why, she said it was because she has so much to do. But to an outsider, it looked like this woman had shared feelings with my date, RJ, and getting married was the last thing she had wanted to do.

Unfortunately, I thought the best part about this Indian wedding was wearing my sari and taking photos. I didn’t get the cheerful feeling I have at friends’ weddings in The States; a feeling that stems from the obvious joy beaming from the newly married couple; from their closest family and friends joining them in well wishes and sharing excitement for their future; from everybody eating cake, imbibing and sharing the moment. Instead it felt routine and forced, but I suppose that should have been expected from an arranged marriage. The man and wife barely knew each other before this night, and they suddenly had a lot of expectations ahead.

The photo shoot continued long after RJ and I left, but I wished the new couple a happy future filled with laughter, happiness and, hopefully one day, love.

Indian Bride

Have you ever been to a wedding in another country? Where? How was it?


An Indian Wedding in Varanasi
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

Stuck on a Plane in China

I’ve been staring out the oval window of my Korean Air jet for the past three hours. We’ve boarded, watched the safety video, had our first meal, coffee served. But despite my earlier view of the grey clouds hanging low, rain drops sliding down the pane in varied designs, the greyness has lifted, the water dried up, and I can still see the pavement below, the buildings over yonder and, to my utter dismay, several planes reaching into the polluted abyss.

Guangzhou China

I failed to take a picture, but here’s the pollution in Guangzhou, China.

But not mine.

The control tower waited until we were settled and ready for take off before informing our pilot that we could not. “I think it’s bad weather,” says the clear-skinned Korean beauty with her best sympathetic smile. “I’m so sorry.”

I watch three more planes ascend in sequenced procession. Why not mine?

It’s not her fault, I know, so I’m trying not to be angry. The Chinese man in front of me, however, is clearly voicing his disapproval. The patient woman is on her knees in the isle, hands clasped together in her greatest apologies for something that’s obviously out of her control.

Two years ago, I was almost in her shoes. Back when I was still trying to make my dreams of travel a reality, I flew to St. Louis, Missouri for an interview to be a stewardess. It was a two-day luxury on the company’s dime that eventually cost me my current job (due to a mixture of my not wanting my boss to know I was applying for new jobs and her being a paranoid control freak), but the company offered me a position. I had what I thought I wanted – my ticket around the world.

And then I turned it down.

I saw myself in this Korean woman’s position, and I knew from my customer service experience at Starbucks that it would essentially be a high-flying barista position, with much higher stakes. The customers’ schedules and even their lives are in the hands of airport staff, the pilot and the airline, but the only person they have to express their frustration, anger and fear to is you.

You’re the one who has to listen to stories of missed meetings and not making it home to families for important holidays. You have to dutifully refill their wine cup with a smile, pick up their dirty dishes and fetch blankets when they’re cold.

Even if you wake up in a bad mood, or you couldn’t get the day off to be with your own family, or you’re missing your child’s first birthday, you have to pretend to care about their problems – they’ll probably never ask about yours.

You have to kiss your crying kid goodbye, grab your always-ready bag and uniform, and make sure your tears are dried, your face aglow by the time you greet the passengers who slowly board the plane. You wish they would hurry up and go faster, “go, go, get on already!” you think, because your paycheck doesn’t start until the cabin door is closed and the airplane is ready to go.

But you say nothing. That could cost you your job.

All you can do is smile.

When I peel off the glamorous layers of the flight attendant job, it becomes anything but. I knew it wouldn’t make me happy, and in the same way many creative people seek careers in a different field for fear of losing interest in their art, I feared I might lose my desire to see the world.

So I returned to Oregon and went back to my less glamorous barista position at Starbucks until I could figure out a better plan. I felt lost. I felt stuck. I knew I didn’t want to make a career out of Starbucks, not because it’s a bad company (it’s not), but because I wanted more.

I wanted an escape.

I began researching teaching abroad opportunities just days after I told the airline no. I would sit in my bed with my computer on my lap until the wee hours of the morning, already getting excited about my future life in South Africa, or Peru, or Korea, or Thailand.

I didn’t really care where I went – it was all equally intriguing. A life abroad: I could picture myself there. I saw myself immersed in a foreign culture, and loving every minute of it.

Fast forward to now, at the end of a six-month experiment that morphed into nearly a year and a half, and I was right. I loved it. My adventures took me places I never could have imagined and bred in me an even stronger desire to see more – to see the world. I’m not finished traveling, and I never want to be.

Already three and a half hours into a plane ride that has yet to start, I’m beginning to see the irony in the fact that I’m stuck in China. It’s another pivotal moment in my life, much like where I was at Starbucks, a time when I have many decisions to make about the direction of my future.

I’ve decided to conquer my fear of commitment by overwhelming it with excitement. I’m moving to Colorado (!), and even though I’m enrolled in graduate school and my life will take a vastly different, more structured form than it has before, I’m choosing to look at this plane ride not as the end of one adventure, but the beginning of the next.

The flight attendants just announced we’re going to be yet another hour on the tarmac – despite the ten planes I’ve watched take off in the distance – and people are getting angrier. Two are standing with their luggage, threatening to disembark, and four uniformed Koreans are doing their best to keep them here.

Korean Flight Attendants

Korean flight attendants. Photo courtesy of Sarah in China on cohpchina.wordpress.com.

The Chinese man in front of me is again reading a woman her rights, explaining he has a connecting flight to catch. I want to tell him I’ve already missed both of mine, and I’m sure there are others on this plane in the same situation. It sucks, but there’s nothing the poor woman can do about it. She’s low on the totem pole, just a few notches above the guys who tossed our luggage onto the loading ramp, but she’s smiling still. Listening to his concerns.

“Why can all those other planes take off and we cannot?” I ask, genuinely curious.

“The weather is bad,” she says. “That is China Air.” She’s talking about the airline, but I can’t help but laugh at the irony of it.

“Why can China Air take off and we cannot?” I ask, hoping for an honest answer but expecting nothing more than what I get: a look that says, “What can I say?”

I glance back out the window into the greyness that engulfs China every day, and wonder what she really wanted to say. Clearly, the problem is not the weather. I will find out later, when I land in Korea, that our delay is due to a Chinese military drill on the runway – an unannounced drill that closed down all airlines except China’s own, for four and a half hours.

I look back at her, giggle through my frustration as I point at the eleventh plane to ascend and say with a smile to match hers, “It’s weird, right?”

“Yes,” she nods agreeably, and walks away to join the team of women who are politely preventing the angry Chinese men from their desperate attempts to escape.

OTHER MISSADVENTURES


Stuck on a Plane in China
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

3 Short-term Alternatives to Teaching English Abroad

There are many reasons for wanting to teach abroad. Perhaps you’re on a mission to give back to a community, or you want experience in the teaching field, or maybe you simply want a way to finance part of your travels. Whatever your motive, if you haven’t yet signed up because of your fear of the contractual commitment, there are other alternatives to consider.

English camps - When I came to Thailand on a whim the second time, I kept myself busy (and my pocket full) with working English camps. Many schools schedule camps for students as a way to reward them for good work and promote their continued study of the English language.

It’s different in every country, but the company I worked with often takes students to a resort outside of their hometown and spends three days alternating between games, lessons, sports, speech competitions and talent shows – all in English. It’s a fun time for all, and you have the freedom to pick and choose which camps you want to attend. 

Thailand English Camp

Thailand English Camp

This situation was great for me because I could sign up last minute for a camp I knew I would be in town for, and if I decided to go to the beach instead of work, the company had no hard feelings. It’s a great way for a backpacker to earn a little cash on their way through Bangkok, plus all food, travel and accommodation are paid for while at camp.

Other countries, such as Taiwan for example, are big on longer, summer camps, usually one or two months. They hire teachers for the duration and the pay is worthwhile, plus everything is included and you get to explore the country on your weekends. Here’s a good website for finding camps in Taiwan.

Substitute – Some agencies like to keep a handful of substitutes available for when their full-time teachers are sick, on holiday or on a visa run. Substituting is a great way to experience a variety of schools and have your travel and hotel expenses paid for, on top of your daily wage. This is what I spent the last two months doing in Thailand, and the reason I was able to get a one-month gig in a private primary school, and a one-week position in Trat Preschool. However, there are also options for daily substitutions and long-term, on call positions if you’re based in one location for the majority of your time.

Teach Preschool in Thailand

Teaching Preschool in Thailand

Volunteer - A little more difficult to secure, but volunteer positions without a high price tag do exist. If you’re set on volunteering your time as opposed to working for a standard paycheck, keep an eye out for positions on Craigslist (I recently found one in Trat where housing was included), newspaper listings and other job sites.

My advice is to dig deep to find an organization that doesn’t charge you a preposterous amount of money. I can’t imagine paying someone to let me work for free. Yes, some agencies do good things with the money, and if you’re looking to donate more than just your time then I suggest doing your research to be sure you’ve chosen one of the good ones. 

A great way to find any of these positions it so get in touch with bloggers, teachers or friends currently living in your country of choice. Most likely they have heard of something or know somebody to refer you to, and word of mouth spreads a lot faster than a resume sent via email in these types of positions. The companies/schools will want you to be in country already, so they know you’re serious and available, but this shouldn’t be a problem if your main objective is to travel.

If none of these sound appealing but you still want to experience teaching abroad, listen up. The truth about most 1-year and 2-year contracts is they aren’t actually binding. I’m not advocating breaking your agreement by any means, but we all know life has a way of throwing us curve balls that require a change of course and, if that happens (like it did to me, when my face had an allergic reaction to China’s pollution/water and broke out in severe acne), it’s likely your school/agency will understand. They know most of us aren’t looking to make a career out of teaching English abroad, or at least not in one location.

But even if they’re not sympathetic, there’s very little anybody can do about it. Taking you to court would be an expensive and meaningless effort, as the school will still not have a teacher and you’ll likely already be out of the country anyway.

Teach English in China

My students and I at dinner in China

My advice: If you do encounter this decision, the least you can do is finish out the current term/semester (unless, of course, it’s an emergency situation) so you don’t affect your students any more than necessary. If you leave between terms, the school can determine how best to rearrange the schedule and the students won’t be left without a teacher.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to sign a contract with a plan to break it, but sometimes those of us who have a fear of commitment (read about my issues here), find it easier to overcome when we tell ourselves it’s not permanent.

To be honest, before I came to Thailand on only six-month contract, I told myself I would leave when I was ready. Another part of me desperately likes to finish what I start so I knew I probably wouldn’t quit early, but this thought process is what saved me from a panic attack when I signed my name in ink and faxed it in. I need to believe the choice is mine, and despite a seemingly serious and legal piece of paper, the choice really is mine. And it could be yours, too.

So what are you waiting for?

Fellow ESL Teachers and agencies: if you have any connections, information, job postings, links – leave a comment below!

OTHER MISSADVENTURES


3 Short-term Alternatives to Teaching English Abroad
Written by:Jessica J. Hill