Monday, March 14, 2016

The City of Mozart

Old Town in Salzburg (World Heritage)
It’s been only two weeks since I got here in Salzburg, but I am completely in love with this beautiful city in Austria already. Can you even imagine that now I am staying in the town where Mozart was born and raised? I am walking the streets where he used to walk around and am seeing buildings where lots of his masterpieces were made…like is this even real? My dorm is only a 10 minutes walk away from Mozart’s birth place, and the town itself is a World Cultural Heritage. They have a bunch of pretty buildings and streets including cathedrals and palaces where the sound of music was filmed (although I found out the movie is not that popular here in Salzburg), and that is where we hang out.

People are very nice, too. To be honest, before I came here, I was scared of being judged just because I am Asian. Obviously there are less Asians, however, people would not care, they would still talk to me and give me beautiful smiles. Since the national language in Austria is German, sometimes I cannot communicate with local people, but most of them are pretty good at English so I think there would be no problem living in Austria without knowing German. However, I always feel bad that I cannot speak their language because they are so nice and I want to thank them in their own language. For the reason, I regret that I did not study German beforehand. Hopefully I will be able to speak a little bit before I leave here.

Everything is pretty
I was born and raised in Japan, and I have only lived on “islands” (Japan and Hawaii) so this experience is completely new to me. It may sound silly but I still cannot believe that I am in a continent that has a lot of countries inside. I got a layover in Germany when I flew here, so I got to spend a day in Düsseldorf. When I saw Rhine River, I remembered that I studied about the river in a small classroom in Japan. It felt so magical that I was actually seeing the river with my own eyes, not with a geography textbook. 

Being in TWO different countries at the same time!!!

Since I came here, I have met a lot of people from different countries. Some of them were originally refugees. They are all open minded and likeable and have various ways of thinking. I am sharing a kitchen with about 30 students from different colleges/countries, and there is always someone I get to talk with. Having a deep conversation with them is now my favourite time of the day.
I hang out with people from my dorm floor every night

Salzburg Cathedral
Every time I tell people that I go to a school in Hawaii, they get all jealous and ask me why I left Hawaii. Yes I do miss beautiful Hawaiian beaches and mountains, sunny days, and tight nice hugs. However, the life here is as exciting as the one in Hawaii. I can feel the history just by walking around the streets and every time I imagine how many people have come here and been amazed by this beautiful city throughout the centuries, I feel like I want to cry (I did actually, for several times) and I am so happy to be one of those tons of people.

Paris - Falling in Love with the City of Love

My first month (and a little more) in Paris has been nothing less than I expected - crazy, 

beautiful, COLD, busy, fulfilling, and overwhelming.
“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.” - Peter Hoeg
I have been learning this each day, each moment, that I am abroad. The beginning of my trip started off with the overwhelming sensation of regret: Why am I going here alone? Will I be okay? Is this what I truly want? Am I going to meet people once the program starts that I will feel comfortable with? Comfort is something that I see now as a little bit of a crutch. We do not travel to far and distant places to seek comfort, but to remove ourselves from this and experience life abroad. And this is why I did come to Paris.
I began making a 21 hour journey from San Francisco, tearfully saying goodbye to my mom, through Seattle and then Iceland before reaching Paris. I maneuvered (somewhat difficultly) through the Metro and the streets with my backpack and suitcase and arrived at my hotel - the Lenox Hotel Montparnasse, which lies in the heart of the Montparnasse business district in central Paris. There were loads of diverse restaurants, some shopping, lots of Boulangeries, and people. Paris is very crowded and everyone is in that fast-pace, New York City type of lifestyle. After settling into my hotel for the first night, I met up with a girl who lives in Paris. Her cousin goes to school with me at HPU and was my French tutor last semester. Camille, her boyfriend, Etienne, and myself went to the 18th Arrondissement where the beautiful hilltop of Montmartre is with the Sacre Couer church. We enjoyed some bubble tea at a local shop, walked around the hilly streets, which fondly reminded me of San Francisco, and walked in the Pigalle area (famous for Moulin Rouge, see above)
La Seine on my birthday
The next few days moved quickly as I met my roommate, host family, moved into my apartment, had orientation, met the other students in my program, went on countless tours, and began classes all within a matter of a week. It didn't take me all that long to get my bearings and feel "comfortable" (there's that word again) in my new city. The first weekend was my birthday, so my friends and I celebrated in the only way we thought appropriate - drinking champagne underneath La Tour Eiffel as it lit up at midnight on February 14th. It was an incredible and memorable moment for me, one that I know will always remain one of the most fabulous ways I rang in my birthday. The next day, my actual birthday, we spent at The Louvre and walking along The Seine for a beautiful Parisian sunset.

Jardin des Tuileries 
As I've become more settled, I have found it easier to venture out into the city, both on my own and with friends, to explore and see the sights. Now, I've been to Paris before, and seen the typical tourist destinations. It is, however, much different walking through Le Jardin du Luxembourg after your class with a croissant in hand listening to the people have conversations about their days, watching children playing with their boats in the pond, and taking in the actual life of Paris. The city isn't just about love and lights, it's about stopping to enjoy what is around you - experience what the life here has to offer. I choose to walk home sometimes instead of taking the metro just so I am able to discover new areas of Paris and feel more of what else this beautiful city has aside from the majorly-known attractions. Plus, it's better to walk when bread, cheese, and wine accompanies nearly every single meal you enjoy!

In addition to Paris, I've been lucky enough to explore other parts of Europe as well. 

Grand Place
A few weekend's ago, a few of us from the program went to Brussels, Belgium. The short weekend trip was perfect for the quaint, historic city that happens to be the unofficial capital of the European Union (EU). I did not have any expectations or knowledge of what Brussels was known for or what it had to offer, but I was SO pleased after I left. We took a train into the city, stayed in the Ixelles area, which offered plenty of street art, culture, and little restaurants. The city center is mainly made up of the famous Grand Palace, which includes the town hall, the Manneken Pis statue, and the oldest brewery in Brussels. We discovered that this wonderful city was known for its beer, waffles, pancakes, speculoos (you know, that delicious Trader Joe's cookie butter we all love?), chocolate, fries with various sauces and toppings, and my personal favorite - moules et frites (mussels and fries). We basically ate our way through the city in between seeing the beautiful combination of Dutch and French culture, unique architecture and attractions. We also checked out an incredible, interactive museum, The Parliamentarium, which gave us insight into the history of the EU. It was one of the coolest places I've ever been to. 

The Glass Castle
Madrid was where I just visited this past weekend. Not only is it much less expensive than Paris, but the weather was much nicer and we met some really friendly people. English is spoken almost everywhere here. And can I just say the food was out of this world! I went in knowing I wanted some paella - a dish made of rice and different spices with ham, seafood, chicken, veggies, or other types of add-ons - and it did not disappoint at all. We also enjoyed sangria, a drink with wine and fruit that Spain is well-known for, and was introduced to tinto de verano, a similar drink that adds a bit of soda to traditional sangria. This matched with tapas - small plates of various fried foods, small bites of meats, cheeses, and bread - could not be topped. Again, my friends and I did what we do best and ate our way through the city. Aside from this, we visited the huge and well-known Parque del Retiro, which has various statues, ponds, the Glass Castle, and miles of walkable paths intertwined with 
Enjoying some ice cream in Plaza Mayor

flower gardens and trees. We sat on the steps by the pond and enjoyed the people-watching and the warm weather, which we were missing from Paris. Madrid is also home to the Plaza Mayor, a huge square that was similar to the Grand Place in Brussels, where many people sit and enjoy food, drinks, venders, and the architecture. It is right next to Puerta del Sol, a massive tourist area filled with shopping, restaurants, statues of famous Spaniards and people dressed up with character costumes for tourists to take pictures with. We actually witnessed a refugee protest going on there on Friday night - an issue that is widely being discussed throughout everywhere in Europe currently. This area is home to a lot of street performers, protests, and other large-scale demonstrations because of the amount of foot traffic that comes through. The last attraction we saw was Catedral de la Almudena - probably one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen. It was massive with extremely detailed and colorful ceilings, incredible stained-glass windows, and ornately-decorated displays. 
Above Madrid at the Catedral de la Almudena
We climbed to the top of the church, which gave the best views in the entire city of Madrid. Also, it was right next to the Palacio Real de Madrid, which had a certain resemblance to Versailles, although on a much smaller scale. The view was breathtaking. We enjoyed the city of Madrid very much and definitely could have spent more time getting to know it better.

Les Catacombs de Paris
As I write this I realize my time in France is slowly ticking away. I have been very conscious of the fact I will not be here for all that long. The most important thing I can do is keep exploring and discovering new places within this city I now call my home. It has always been my dream to live in Paris, and here I am making it my reality. There is so much left for me to see and do and everyday is another opportunity. I've been to more museums than I can count, seen many many exhibits, and I'm not going to stop, because why not? Now is the time to do it.

Friends in Pigalle

My advice to anyone coming to Europe or wanting to see Paris is this: get ready for a culture that indulges in all life has to offer, whether it's food, drink, or love. There is no better place to experience life than here, where a fast-paced lifestyle is set in an ancient and beautiful backdrop. No matter how in a rush I am, I can always slow down to enjoy what is right in front of me.

À bientôt!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Three Lessons I Learned From Traveling

It’s been about a month since I arrived here in Florence, and after finally enjoying a full day of sun, walking along the Arno River yesterday, I had some time to reflect on my travels. 

The Arno River
The morning after my last final in December I packed up my one US carry-on size bag, a smaller shoulder bag, and a backpack (the goal was to take as little as possible since I knew it’d be awhile until I could unpack). My first two destinations were New York City and Philadelphia where I got to see my brother and sister. 

On the way over to NYC my carry-on bag (which I had just bought) was already showing signs of weakness, with over a month of traveling ahead of me there was no other choice but to buy a new bag. This brings me to the First Lesson I Learned while Traveling: 

Navigating NYC Metro
Don’t get attached to things. Traveling (and life for that matter) will be ten times more enjoyable if you accept the fact that anything you bring may get lost, stolen, or broken… Try to take the bare minimum of what you need and always go for quality over quantity. This is extremely helpful when you have to drag your stuff up three or more flights of stairs (A LOT of places don’t have elevators, a lesson quickly learned in Europe). 

“Take half as much clothes and twice as much money.” 
 (An old travel axiom that my dad likes to quote) 

While the first lesson came to me pretty quickly the Second Lesson I Learned while Traveling took a little more time and realization:  

Traveling isn’t about the places you go

…or the things you collect

Traveling is about the People you Meet 

Being that I hadn’t really been outside of the country before (except to Canada…) I was extremely excited to check some countries off my list (you should never degrade traveling down to only a list, but I’ll get back to that later). I was going to visit Sweden, Norway, Germany, and Italy at the minimum.

Little did I know it didn’t matter that Sweden was wet and dark (Sweden is absolutely gorgeous, but it was winter), or Norway was very cold (again winter), or that my stomach didn’t agree so much with German food (that one’s just on my stomach) because I was reunited with some of my best friends (some I hadn’t seen for three years!) and met many more amazing people along the way. 
Kristiansand Zoo, Norway

I listened to the stories of the people in the airport, on the train, and everywhere in-between (I met a girl who was in the US for the first time in two years after starting up an ice cream business in Tonga and I bonded with many random people over the sole fact that we could speak English, but not Swedish, Norwegian, German, etc..) I realized very quickly that it didn’t matter where my destination was because so many amazing stories were found within the people all around me regardless of where I was at. This brings me to the Third lesson I learned while traveling: 

Enjoy the place you are in while you are there. This lesson sounds a little obvious, but it is so easy while traveling to get caught up on planning everything for where you’re going to go next that you forget to be where you are. Take it all in nice and slow. What does the air feel like? How do the sounds and smells mix together? Live in the moment.

Enjoying the not so convertible weather in Germany
Possibly worse than this is a little thing called social media (yeah, yeah, I know we’ve all been warned of the evil dangers of social media, but for real just put the phone down). I’ve seen so many people look at a famous monument, sculpture, building, etc. for only a second, take a picture, and then just stare at their phone for the rest of the time. It’s good that the world now knows where you are, but do you?

And again, never reduce your trip down to a list of things to do. Plans change, discoveries are made, and life happens. If you get enchanted by the idea of a place you never heard of before… then go. If you meet someone who gives you goosebumps (or chicken skin for my Hawaii peeps) by just listening to them… then stay longer. You will come to find that all those places you thought you had to go are no where near as important as the places and people you just happened to fall in love with. 

Stay tuned for future posts about Florence and a video (hopefully in the near future) of my month and a half of living out of a bag, traveling Europe, and seeing old friends. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Time Flies: Another Month in Review

Hello Again!

It's funny how three months used to feel like forever and now it only feels like three weeks. I must say, time do goes by really fast. Now that another month has come to an end, I am happy to share a few more collection of memories that highlights my time here in Thailand. But first, let's talk about school! 
Mahidol University International College (Building)
Wisdom of the Land
Me in my uniform near the Learning Center on campus

School here is amazing and the environment is quite different from what I am often familiar with in HPU. It's easy to tell who goes to MUIC since everyone are wearing the school uniform. Yes, uniforms! Something I always thought that I will never have to wear especially in college. I am currently taking four classes that are almost two hours long per each course. The honest truth is, I get super sleepy in some of my classes especially my 8am class. My advice, "do choose your class time very carefully." Other than that, don't let this or anything hinder you from wanting to study abroad because I really enjoy learning here and you will agree or hopefully do agree once you come and experience it yourself. The room sizes are small in my opinion unless you are taking a certain class with 30 plus students. As for the campus, it is very big and it might take you some amount of time just to cover the whole University. That's where the clubs come in.


Again, you got to join a club. I believe the first or second week was when they had the Club Expo and I was super excited to join as much clubs as I can. I ended up signing for five different clubs but for some reason was only able to join two. I would highly recommend joining the Cycling and Art Club only because one - I joined it and two - they are the best clubs ever. 
Painting with my Art Buddies 
We had a Cycling trip to Kanchanaburi on the second week of February for two days. We left early Saturday morning and safely arrived at Guest House where we stayed at for the night. On the first day, we biked for about 40 or 45 km and it can be very intense if you are a beginner like myself.
reaching the 1km sign 
I was always tempted to give up but despite the steep hills and the scorching sun, I managed to made it to the end. Coming this far to Thailand and biking for that much distance, I realized that you can do anything as long as you have the heart to do it. Oh how I was so filled with joy the moment I saw 1 km left. I celebrated such wonderful accomplishment with my two awesome friends who encouraged me along the way. You know, part of studying abroad is making sure you surround yourself with the right people who will always support you as you take on one of the major steps in your life. 

Made it to the finish point with my friends - Boss on the Left and Ket Lee on the right
It was very sad when our trip was finally over. We end it with a visit to the Saiyok Waterfall and had the chance to relax and enjoy the beauty of the other side of Thailand. I still can't get over it and would definitely do it again if I was given the opportunity. I made so many awesome sauce friends, both Thai and exchange, which is another good reason why you should join some clubs.
Saiyok Waterfall
Floating Houses along the Saiyok Waterfall/River
Every Monday we do paintings for Art Club and on Tuesdays have our general rides for cycling club. I'm glad I took the initiative to join because I have learned to come out of my comfort zone and discover another part of me that I have never known before. I really can't express in words how superb this journey has taken me. 

Here are some of my favorite places we visited during cycling and some wild moments I had with my cycling buddies:

Phutthamonthon Sai 4

After one of our general bike rides

Some Old Ruins at Muang Sing Historical Park
First Day in Kanchanaburi after our 40km Cycling Ride
One of our stop at the Death Railway

another quick photo before we head back to school
"Now if you please...stop reading and come study and make your lifetime memories in THAILAND❤!"