Janus in Singapore: Kuala Lumpur

April 17, 2017

Finally got around to a trip to Malaysia. I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t happen – all but 1 of my flat mates had been before, and the rest of my friends in Singapore were already busy reviewing for finals at SMU, which apparently is a bit of a colossal affair. My roommate Loic and I sat down one day and found a three-day period that we were both free of obligations, though, and decided to take a rather spontaneous trip to Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital. In hindsight, given that I have four finals in a five days as opposed to the usual two week spread, it probably wasn’t a great time to go. But I wasn’t about to go back home after spending a semester in Singapore without a Malaysian immigration stamp on my passport.

A view from the bottom of the Petronas Towers. Inside are a series of malls full of luxury brands, like fifth avenue or orchard road compressed inside a city block.

The trip was absurdly cheap. I spent just under $120 or 3 days without really worrying too much about my budget, either. Roundtrip bus tickets cost about $30, two nights at a nice hostel were another $30, and the remaining $60 afforded me the opportunity to try anything I wanted from the famous Jalan Alor Street Food Night Market, a 90-minute massage, uber/grab transportation, and a few drinks at the local bar.

A view of Kuala Lumpur from the top of the KL Tower. It’s no New York, but it’s impressive that you can still see tall buildings in what seems to be miles away from the city center.

The hostel was probably the price that shocked me the most, as I expected something much cheaper. My classmates who had taken trips to other Southeast Asian counties like Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia, found similar quality or better lodging for around $5-10 a night, whereas even the luxury villa we booked on our earlier trip to Bali cost about $50 for 4 nights for much more extravagant lodging. But it was ultimately worth it – the hostel was right in the middle of the food street, and was at most a half hour cab ride away from the sights we wanted to see.

One of the many food stalls in the Jalan Alor Food Street. Like in Beijing and Xian food streets, nothing beats the lamb skewers in both taste and value.

When Loic and I found ourselves complaining about the price of the hostel as we sat outside the hostel eating lamb skewers and drinking sugar cane juice, we stopped for a moment and laughed at the absurdity of it. Back home, $15 a night for housing, especially of this quality, was nothing. We felt like living in Asia had given us a different conception of cheap and money. It was a realization that my classmates from the first semester and I had, too, towards the end of our stay in China. It’s probably one of the things I appreciate the most from spending so much time abroad – you get a better appreciation of money. If people can live off of x amount, it’s harder to justify spending at the rate you do when you’re back home in the U.S. on luxurious things.
There were five big places that we experienced – the Petronas Towers, the KL Tower, the Batu Caves, and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, and of course the Alor food street. If TripAdvisor and my flatmates’ advice were to be heeded, these were the must see spots in Kuala Lumpur.

The outside of the Batu Caves. There are about 250 steps to get to the caves, with perhaps just as many wild monkeys to greet you on the way up.

The towers were absolutely gorgeous, though to be honest it felt like they didn’t fit in their surroundings. What I liked about Kuala Lumpur was that that there was a very nice and not too stark contrast between the old and the new. Like Manila, there were many worn down and dirty buildings, and interspersed among them were newer, cleaner, taller buildings that served a variety of purposes, from government buildings to corporate headquarters to residential areas. But they were never TOO clean, TOO new, TOO tall, so as to be strange – it just seemed like a city that, like many others, was growing up. Like Singapore, there was a lot of greenery in the metropolis that helped smooth out the edges of old and new, too. Parks flowed seamlessly into untamed jungle, and this somehow made the abandoned shacks or construction sites next to bank buildings seem natural, too.

We were wondering where the lights came from as the inside of the cave was well lit, and we were treated to this view after about a minute or two of walking inside.

But the Petronas Towers were just… too different. It wasn’t just the fact that the Towers (and the 30m shorter KL towers) were over 100m taller than the next tallest buildings, though that definitely played a big role. There was something about how the towers looked that made it seem distinctly not-so Kuala Lumpur. Its metallic silver color and the layered outside texture gives it an almost violent feeling that makes it seem like a ripple in the much more relaxed and low-key set-up of the rest of the city. Maybe that’s why it’s such a famous building – not just for its size, but for the emotions you get when you look up from the earth in Kuala Lumpur and see something so alien.
The KL Towers, unfortunately, didn’t impress quite as much. It wasn’t so much the fault of the building – it, too, is quite tall, standing at 420 meters, though aesthetically it’s quite plain outside of the sphere-like structure at the top of the tower. It was the fault of the view, really. The sky and observation decks of the the tower, which are its main attractions, offered a great vantage point to view the rest of the city. But that was just the problem – there really wasn’t that much to see. Besides the Petronas Towers, most of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline is quite unimpressive, though it was surprising to see just how far out the city stretched. The view, though, did cement the contrast that I talked about previously – sometimes you would see two buildings next to each other that looked identical, only one was a cleaner, newer, and taller version of the other.
The Batu Caves were the the highlight of the trip, for sure. The site’s main attraction is the series of cave and Hindu temples inside. When my flatmates who had been before talked about it, it sounded like they weren’t too impressed: they said they didn’t really understand the religious significance or what was so impressive about a bunch of caves. To be honest, I don’t either – it seemed just like any other Hindu temple that I’d seen. But it’s one of those things where once you walk up the stairs, past all the wild monkeys eating fruit and drinking from bottles left behind, and into the damp, naturally light caves and see the monuments and altars scattered around, as if they were just left behind by their creators, there’s a really strange and almost magical feeling you get inside you. This place just seemed so remote, so far away from society, so serene – and especially in contrast with the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, the moment of quiet is special.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Currently under renovation, so we couldn’t go inside – but the outside served for a good enough background photo.

The Sultan Abdul Samad building was just a pretty thing to look at, to be honest. We didn’t spend much time there at all, but my flatmate and I did end up relaxing in the green just across from it. It had a very country club feel to it – there were a few fancy restaurants and a beautiful white marble forum right next to it – but somehow, there were very few people in the green itself, even though we were there during what I would imagine to be peak hours, just after people would start getting out of school or work and just before it got dark.
A really interesting place. I don’t think Kuala Lumpur is a must-visit by any means, but I’m really happy I made the trip out .

Clara in Italy: Cats of Cortona (and elsewhere)

December 7, 2016

This is going to be a very brief post detailing some of the wonderful cats we’ve met in Cortona because I have to say they are a rather large part of daily life.

Cappuccina. She mostly hangs out on the hill between campus and the rest of town. Kind of snooty, but will consent to be pet most of the time. Generally adorable. Has a doppelganger that has a little cat house near the Mercato at the bottom of Cortona.

Regal Cat. Not sure what their real name is. One of the staff told me once (Antonella! Fabulous cat whisperer), but I unfortunately forgot it. It starts with a G I believe, but we just called them Regal Cat. 😦 They also hang out on the hill between campus and the rest of town. Too good for you.

Silly Cat. Usually pretty low down on the hill. Don’t see them too often, but they’re still pretty nice.


Beautiful Cat. Lives with a family down by the Mercato. Unfortunately difficult to get a photo of, since she lives so far down and it’s kind of exhausting to go down all the time and isn’t always out. But look how pretty she is!


Selena! Very elusive cat. Lives on the studio portion of the campus, but comes up to the dorms to get fed by Antonella. There’s another cat named Lucy who I think also hangs out over there, but is even more elusive. She’s grey, though.


Mysterious Cat. Have seen them but once! Managed to get this picture, staring out of the darkness of an open window. Pretty majestic, I’d say.


And now, the THREE GRACES: Squiggle, Eddy and Sylvester. The cats of the dorms. Sometimes they sneak into the building. Mostly pretty skittish, but have been getting along pretty swimmingly since Squiggle joined the group. I’ve been reliably informed that Eddy and Sylvester never really used to hang out until Squiggle showed up.

So Squiggle. Named for the little kink in his tail. Gang leader. Likes to roll around in the dust and dirt and makes funny meows. He also kind of pancakes himself onto the ground when you reach for him. Wants love but also tends to run. But when you get him to come to you, he’s very snuggly. Has gotten much fatter than he was when he first appeared, which is kind of a relief, but he’s also a bit resource-hoardy and kind of a pig. Will steal the food from the others. We suspect he was abandoned and this probably accounts for the way he acts. Poor Squigsquag. A student favorite.

Eddy. Constantly sick. Sneezes a lot. Doesn’t seem to be able to clean himself and seriously needs a bath. Is the neediest cat I’ve ever met. When Squiggle is getting pets from people, Eddy is not far behind and often comes meowing aggressively and plaintively from the bushes. But he doesn’t want love from you!! He’s after Squiggle’s affection. I really love Eddy. He’s a sweetheart when you can get him to trust you for a hot second. He’s a little mangy, but that seems to be no fault of his own. A classmate bought him a comb, so maybe Antonella can clean him a bit better since he can’t seem to do it without a little help. (Unfortunately, only one solo picture for him.)


Sylvester. Definitely the prettiest cat around. Extremely fluffy and well-preened, but he can’t meow. At first we thought he was hissy and unfriendly, but it turns out he really just can’t make meowing sounds. Seems standoffish at first, but on the rare occasion you can get him to come closer, he is wonderfully rewarding to pet on account of his glorious fur. The best cat-loaf.

And, just as a bonus, here’s my art history professor with a friendly cat she met in Orvieto. Think he was just starting to get sick of being held at this point, but he was pretty amenable to it for the first few minutes.

That’s all for this frivolous post. If you hate cats, I’m very sorry. Stay determined!

Olivia in Scotland: Easy as 1, 2,3

October 28, 2016

Hello again!

So, it may not sound like it from my previous posts, but I’ve actually been going to classes while I’ve been here! Shocking, I know. It’s definitely a lot harder to focus on them here than it is when I’m at UR, but I’ve enjoyed them and learned some cool things about Scottish culture and how their universities work.


Jumping into classes at Edinburgh! #badpun #notasmanycoolpicturesforliteraturecourses

Class #1: Early Modern Tragedy. This is a 3rd year English seminar with a very depressing title. Luckily, our tutor (they don’t call them “professors” here) has that wry, Scottish sense of humor that can find something to laugh about even in the darkest of texts. Like my English courses at home, this class is largely discussion-based, but it only meets once a week and each student has an assigned Autonomous Learning Group (ALG) that you have to meet with outside of class as well. It’s definitely a lot of independent learning, but thankfully you have a group of people to talk through the texts with when they get confusing. One cool thing: I went to see Macbeth at the Globe Theatre a few weeks ago, and while we didn’t actually read that play in this course, I felt like I had a much deeper understanding of the genre and themes because I’m taking this.

Class #2: Edinburgh in Fiction/Fiction in Edinburgh. In this English seminar, we read novels from various time periods that are set in (or partially set in) the city of Edinburgh. This course can be really cool because you can actually picture the places that they talk about in the books; in one novel we read, the characters actually lived in my neighborhood! I love getting to hear different authors describe the city in different contexts and learning more about its evolution over time to where we are today. There’s only one problem with this course: there’s more reading than just about anyone in the class can actually finish. One of the big things I prefer about UR is that the professors tend to split up texts between different class meetings whenever possible so you get a deeper understanding of fewer texts. Here, it feels like you tend to get a shallower understanding of more texts. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the essay will pan out because of this. And yes, as you may have heard, nearly all your grade is determined by an essay at the middle of the term and another one at the end of the term. (Keep your fingers crossed for me please.)

Class #3 (my last class because the courses are worth more credits here): Scotland and Orality. This is a course I’m taking just for fun because I can’t really take it anywhere else in the world. We look at Scotland’s oral tradition—that means ballads, fables, myths, legends, songs, children’s games, and lots more—past and present. One of the strangest things about this course for me is finding out that some of the things I think of as distinctly American are actually Scottish things. In our first course meeting, we listened to some fiddle music, and it sounded pretty much exactly like Appalachian fiddle music in the US. This made sense to me since I myself have Scottish ancestors who immigrated to those mountains, but I just hadn’t thought about it before. There have been lots of moments like that here—for instance, when I realize that Americans and Scots are both famous for frying food or that ceilidh dances here are a whole lot like square dances—but this course has given me a closer look at some of those things. Another cool moment in this course was when we talked about children’s games. A Scottish student and I tried to remember the words to the old game Miss Mary Mack together, and we knew all the same words except for one: I said “50 cents” and she said “50 pence!” Some things aren’t so different between the two sides of the Atlantic.

Those are my classes! Things are a lot more independent here and I definitely miss the more direct access to professors that you can get at UR, but it’s a good learning experience.

To close—living here longer makes me appreciate this city’s beauty even more. I can’t believe I’ve only got a little less than two months left!


The view of Prince’s Street and Edinburgh Castle from Calton Hill. Gorgeous, right?

Till next time!

Naomi at Akita Week 5: Cup Noodle Coffee

October 7, 2016

Saturday night, about 20 bands auditioned in the Student Hall for the main stage for the AIU Festival we’re having this upcoming weekend. I don’t know how this school has so many musically talented individuals; they were all very fun to watch. The pictures above are of Saeki, singer, and Isshin, bassist. They’re in a band called チョゲ (Choge). There are 5 guys in the band and they’re all freshmen, meaning they just formed this band only a couple of weeks ago and they blew the crowd away. Hopefully they get the part!


Here’s a picture of Patrick bringing me coffee. We have Japanese 300 together everyday. On Tuesday, after our reading class I have a two-hour break before our Kanji class. Lucky for Patrick, he doesn’t have to take the Kanji class since he knows more than what we’re supposed to know. I don’t know how he does it. Anyways, because he’s free, he offers to make me coffee all the time. The thing is he puts the coffee in his finished ramen cups. I think it’s the greatest thing. I just wanted to show you all how genius this idea is.


On Sunday, some of the Colorado crew (Tristan, Kevin, and Chris) and I decided to explore in Akita City. We took a free bus from the AEON mall to Akita Station and then walked to Senshu Park. This park is the site of the Kubota Castle that was built in 1603. There was a bronze statue of Yoshitaka Satake in the middle of the park as well as the white castle called osumi-yagura, which served as the lookout and weapons depot. There was supposed to be a waterfall next to this castle so we were expecting something big and exciting. Instead, it was the smallest waterfall we had ever seen; it was quite funny actually.


After walking around for 2-3 hours, we stopped by at Lawson (convenience store) to get some snacks and drinks. Kevin was hungry and couldn’t wait till dinner; we had an hour till Toshi picked us up anyways. We ended up going to Kaitenzushi to ensure Tristan could eat (he’s a vegetarian so going to ramen would’ve been a poor choice). It was super cheap, only 98yen for one plate of sushi! Some of us tried the horsemeat sushi because why not? It was very hard to chew and tasted like…well, nothing. All I could taste was the ginger. It was still nice to try because now I can admit that I’ve tried raw horsemeat! I had 11 plates, by the way. That’s 22 pieces of sushi. Well, 21 pieces. I split a plate with Toshi. We both decided to try something new so we had these thin small transparent fish. I can’t remember the name of it, unfortunately, but you just need to know that it tasted very fishy. I ended up covering the fishy taste with lots of ginger. It was a great time. We all had food babies afterwards though and couldn’t move.

Olivia in Scotland: Strangers Like Me

September 22, 2016

Greetings from Edinburgh!

After a week and two days, it’s still difficult to believe that I’m actually here. Even from what I’ve seen so far, this city and this country are as lovely or lovelier than I heard them described. Where else can you get views like this?


From my day trip to the Borders area where we stopped by the beautiful village of Peebles!


Hiking up Arthur’s Seat, the big hill in the middle of Edinburgh.


This is a little of what it looks like from the top of Arthur’s Seat!


I took this from inside The Elephant House, which is, for the Harry Potter fans, the coffeeshop where J.K. Rowling wrote a lot of the first book!


I love how cozy all of the streets look here. Many houses have flowers in their window boxes or front gardens. 

I’ve only really done one major tourist attraction in the city so far (Arthur’s Seat). Thankfully, I’ve got the rest of the semester to see the sights. So much of this past week has been about gathering basic necessities, enrolling in courses, meeting new people, trying to get over my jet lag, and generally getting settled. If you’re a student thinking of going abroad, make sure to be gracious with yourself; don’t feel like you have to see every sight of your new city all at once in the very beginning while you’re still exhausted!

I think often what is most striking about a new place is not what is different from one’s home, but what is unexpectedly the same. I’ve seen a lot of similarities over the past week so I’m just going to list some off:

  • The natural scenery. When my taxi took me from the airport through the surrounding countryside to the city center, I was surprised how much the landscape reminded me of Virginia. I have lived in Virginia all my life, and the hills here actually look quite a lot like those of western Virginia, or of somewhere like Albemarle county. I thought the same thing on my day trip to the Borders area on Saturday when I hiked through the Cardrona forest in Tweed Valley Forest Park.

While it’s certainly not exactly like home, to me, it felt like I was in Virginia but with more coniferous trees. 

  • The number of Americans. There are more American visiting students in Edinburgh than students visiting from any other country! Even outside of the university students, I have met many other American adults living in the city as well. I actually feel like I’ve talked to more Americans than Scots in my time here so far. This didn’t even happen on purpose; there’s just so many of them!
  • Political talk. Scotland and the US are both in political turmoil right now what with the upcoming presidential election in America and the fierce desire of many Scots for independence from the UK. My personal tutor (the equivalent of an academic advisor here) told me that he hasn’t seen the political situation this volatile here since the 70s. Both countries seem to be at a crossroads, so you’ll hear a lot of people talking about politics. All of the Scottish people here want to know what the Americans think about America’s political situation right now, so in turn, I ask them about their perspective on their own. It’s definitely led to a few interesting conversations.
  • The music. They mostly play American music on the radio in the shops and pubs here. For me, this was most striking when I attended  Christian faith events. In the church services I went to, as well as the worship session with Christian Union (a student organization here), we sang some of the exact same worship songs I sing in my church at home. While I definitely heard some unfamiliar Christian songs as well, it did feel nice to have some that I knew well.

All that being said, there are also a lot of differences from the life I am used to. I’ve never lived in a city before, so I’m still getting used to all of the walking (thankfully, Edinburgh is a very walkable city). There are more people here from other countries and regions than I’ve encountered in one place before. Unexpectedly, I’ve learned quite a bit about cultures other than Scottish culture just in the past week. I became friends with one student from Louisiana who explained the difference between Cajun and Creole culture and told me all about the city of New Orleans. I also became friends with several people of Korean origin and have eaten Korean food more than once since arriving here! I am learning that living in a city means encountering a variety of cultures, and I am loving it.

One difference between American and British culture I have fully embraced: when British people drink tea, they usually eat biscuits (cookies) with it instead of just drinking the beverage on its own. I knew this about the culture already because I have a boyfriend back home who is half English, so when I arrived, I decided to go all out with it. Tea biscuits were one of my first purchases here, and I’ve taken to drinking no less than two cups of tea per day with them. I’ve been an avid tea lover for a long time, so I feel rather like I’m able to fully be my true tea-drinking self here!


To close this post, I’ll share a little of what the most special aspect of this trip has been to me so far. I thought that it would take me a while to make friends in Edinburgh, especially friends who would really care about me. To my surprise, I’ve made good friends incredibly quickly. This is entirely due to the Christian community here. I’ve found that having one thing in common with other people—particularly having faith in common—can bond you together with them very quickly, whatever your other differences might be. I’ve certainly talked to people who are different from me in this area as well and I value those conversations very higly, but it has been very sweet to see how faith creates a family. I can’t wait to see more of this as my trip goes on.


Part of my Edinburgh family!


Because family is also crazy and sometimes they paint your face.

Welcome week was great; now on to classes!

Jack in NZ: Awaroa

September 15, 2016

“I feel that I am pressing my face into the hot sand of a tropical beach. I feel lucky to be alive. I am lucky to be alive! Or is it that I am alive to be lucky?” – Terence McKenna

I’m sitting on a beach in Abel Tasman National Park watching the tide go out. My back rests against an oversized piece of driftwood. There is a solitary sand fly crawling across the left lens of my Ray Bans toward the bridge of my nose. I adjust my sunglasses slightly and the bugger retreats to my hand, preparing to dig in. I squish him a little bit and he gets the message: ‘shoo fly, don’t bother me’.

A man hauling a trailer drives by on an ATV and parks on the edge of the promontory. We exchange friendly nods. He unloads boxes of gear and departs, disappearing behind the curves of the inlet. He returns by boat with several others. They load the gear and head for the Cook Straight, riding the remaining bits of river into the sea.

The tide has been slowly receding all morning, revealing patches of muddy sand and collections of thousands of cockle shells polished green and blue and purple. I take off my shoes and socks, roll up my pants, and wade across a trickling stream to an exposed sandbar where a flock of ducks soaks up the sun and enjoys a seafood feast. The ducks aren’t a fan of me, it seems. I get about 50 feet from a pair before they make a waddling retreat to the opposite shore.


I adjourn to the log, digging my swollen feet into the shoals along the way, letting the clam remains scratch and massage their flea-bitten, calloused skin. The water is refreshingly cold.

I walk to a small side trail flanked by large patches of gorse. The bushes are beginning to flower. Fuzzy green pods are emerging from the plants spikey stalks. Small yellow flowers like miniature orchids pornographically beckon bees that buzz past. The nectar-seekers bumble along, their striped backs alternating between orange and black.

I hear a whooping from one of the bushes that belongs to a California quail. The bird is dusky blue and has a single teardrop feather emerging from its head. He’s an order of magnitude friendlier than the ducks, tolerating five feet of separation before flitting over the trail with his buddies and a chorus of whoops.


I trek back along the trail. It’s interpolated with quail and boot prints. I sit on the log and drink lukewarm green tea out of a Nalgene bottle and watch a petrel float past the Jurassic landscape. The riparian mountains are every shade of green, dotted with palm-sized ferns. I can faintly hear the calls of tuis and the pips of small birds over the trickling of the tide.

It occurs to me that I haven’t experienced solitude like this in a long time. The weeks leading up to mid-semester break were hectic and crammed, with no time to visit the Great Outdoors and relax. Here there is no rush. I feel like I can finally think clearly, so I do. I sit and sip and think and write.


The tide has gone all the way out, it’s time to continue the trek. I walk back to camp and trade smiles with a group of trampers relaxing on the beach. I reach the hut and one of our group members says, “Wow dude, where were you? You were gone for almost four hours”

Another says, “You look really happy right now, man.”

“I am,” I say.



Clara in Italy: Rome (aka thank god we’re out of there)

September 8, 2016

The last week has been a bit of a whirlwind! I feel like I haven’t stopped walking since I landed in Rome. I sound like an old woman, but seriously, my knees and ankles and hips are all feeling pretty creaky and sore. All that cobblestone is taking its toll.

Before I get to Rome though, look at this poster in the Dublin airport!


One of my top musicals! The first I ever saw on Broadway when I was fifteen and I cried buckets. It was a good time. Wish I could see it again.

To be honest, I don’t really want to talk about Rome that much. It was certainly very cool, but it was also super draining and crowded. Walking through the Vatican museum was honestly awful. Very hot, very crowded etc. etc. I know the highlights there are The School of Athens and the Sistine chapel ceiling, but here are two of my favorite pieces: the Van Gogh Pieta and a bust of Keokuk.



I know these are terrible pictures but then again, what isn’t a terrible picture in a museum?

We also went to the Borghese Gallery, which had some breathtaking Berninis. I’ve been dying to see those in person since I came across images of them. I know there’s other cool stuff there, but you’re only allowed to stay for two hours and it was terribly stressful to try and rush through a museum full of fabulous Berninis. As I’ve said, photos do no justice, but I guess at least look at this angle of The Abduction of Proserpine:


Especially that hand. How does he do it? That’s solid rock, and I’m still very suspiciously ready to poke it to make absolute sure.

Also look at this delicious coffee:


I generally dislike coffee, but this was tasty as heck.

But then! The highlight of Rome (for me, anyways) was definitely this exhibit though:


An ENTIRE EXHIBIT dedicated to Alphonse Mucha??? The most fun I’ve had in a museum in ages!

Look I know liking Mucha is kind of cliche or whatever, but I couldn’t care less. His linework and figures are absolutely breathtaking. All we ever see are his posters and graphic print art, but his paintings and pastels are also just incredible.


If I could do figures as well as he could, I think I’d be happy. I definitely bought the catalogue and it was less than 30 euro so I’m counting it as a really good win.

Time to leave Rome with a parting photo of a 3-wheeled car in our hotel:


Honestly, how do you even drive these around corners? There’s a great video on Top Gear about that. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

And finally, a small picture of the locks on one of the bridges over the Tiber with an ancient Roman structure in the background. I hope the love charm worked for these people.


Enough from me! Have a good week everyone. Stay determined.

Jack in NZ: Screensaver

August 18, 2016

“Day, me say day, me say day, me say day

Me say day, me say day-o” – Harry Belafonte

“Excuse me while I kiss the sky” – Jimi Hendrix

“Nants ingonyama bagithi baba” – Tim Rice

“Tide goes in, tide goes out… you can’t explain that” – Bill ‘Papa Bear’ O’Reilly

I realize that posting a barely-edited 45-minute GoPro video instead of a blog might seem like a copout. In some sense it is. I didn’t have to work very hard on it. I just plunked a camera in the sand and enjoyed the view, no writing required.

But it’s better for both of us this way. I’m not sure I have the linguistic facility to adequately describe what you’re about to see. I didn’t have it after a few hours of tipsy sleep in the beachside cave Thursday night, and I can’t summon it now.

So rather than write a frilly, dramatic, dashed-off-at-the-last-minute description, I’m going spare you my “waking up with shorebirds” and “staring over Earth’s elegant curve at the sunbeams advancing over the horizon” and “utter inner peace” hippy nonsense and let you provide your own.

That being said, please enjoy last Friday’s sunrise at Long Beach:

Tony in Switzerland: Approaching the end

July 25, 2016

My time in Switzerland is coming down to its final hours. It’s been a long semester full of traveling and learning to be independent as a francophone. I recently finished my testing on June 30th, and with the end of exams, I decided to explore more of Switzerland. I’ll show a few pictures of my most recent trips throughout the country.

“The Gate”

The Gate

First, I went to Lugano in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. This is a picture of a gate overlooking the city’s lake and flanked by the city’s park.

“Station’s Street Art”

Station's Street Art

The Lugano station also had some cool street art. The artist used a stencil over newspaper, which coated the entire walls of the station’s hallway.

“Dying Lion”

Dying Lion

Lucerne was next on my Swiss train travels. One of the city’s most visited sites is a monument of a dying lion, which commemorates the soldiers of the Swiss Guards who died in battle during the French Revolution.



The Lucerne Museum of Fine Arts was at once a refuge from the rain and a predetermined destination for my trip. They had little stations where you could draw, paint, and emulate the artists. I enjoyed this section of a book within their libraries on Anton Henning and his works entitled “Eva”.

“Swiss Rotation”

Swiss Rotation

The last leg of the trip: Zurich. I still had not visited the famous city, so I took the time to learn more about the Swiss German history. Inside the National Museum of Zurich, there were several different symbols of Swiss history.



It was a great day to travel in the city: good weather and a lively air. The municipality organized a huge festival throughout the city, which allowed for scenes like this to pop up in front of the traditional architecture.

That’s all for this time. I’ll be posting a summary of this semester soon, highlighting different trips and experiences. It’s almost time to head home, but until then, wish me luck as I clean my apartment and get ready to check out.


Emily in Samoa: Sega na Leqa

April 19, 2016

Sega na leqa (pronounced SENG-a na LENG-a, and don’t enunciate the g’s) is a Fijian phrase similar in meaning to hakuna matata: in other words, no worries, no problem. This is a key phrase to know in Fiji, which has taken on new meaning for me during our week-long visit to the country. Before we arrived, I’d thought it a given that we’d be chanting the “no worries” mantra–Fiji is internationally typecast as a carefree, worry-free, never-ending beach, probably with a waterfall in the background and a pink hibiscus blossom somewhere in sight. Of course we’d be saying no worries in a place like that, where there is seemingly nothing to worry about.


Spontaneous horseback riding on the beach plays up the worry-free Fiji stereotype.

Spontaneous horseback riding on the beach plays up the worry-free Fiji stereotype.


This assumption was first disproved a month before our scheduled flight, when cyclone Winston tore through the islands. A category 5.1 storm, about the magnitude of hurricane Katrina, Winston demolished crops, flattened homes, flipped cargo ships, and turned life on its head. Towns were razed to the ground, with villagers hiding in caves for weeks to protect themselves from winds and high water levels. Two of the hardest-hit towns were Levuka and Rakiraki… the main towns on our itinerary.


This was our first sega na leqa moment, where we kept our schedule and hoped for the best, knowing the trip would be hard, but that we might be of use to villagers by bringing supplies they lacked. No problem…?

Aboard our flight, the second disaster struck. We had just gotten our in-flight drinks when the plane dropped 200 feet, shooting us out of our seats and sending our food and drinks flying. Visibly shaken, we braced ourselves as the plane dipped again and again, hoping we would not be starring in a sequel to Cast Away. Hearts in our throats, we had a nerve-wracking second half of our flight, and were relieved to finally land in Suva. Our clothes were sticky with soda and juice, but we were for the most part alive. No problem. Sega na leqa…


One of Suva's main streets

One of Suva’s main streets


After two days meandering around Suva, we were scheduled to take our trip to Levuka and Rakiraki. We were ready to brave conditions there, but never followed through with the plan. The weather station grimly announced that travelers were out of luck, as choppy waters and floods in the port town of Nadi made ferry trips impossible. Another cyclone was on its way, and towns sank underwater as winds and tides picked up. Some footage of the flood can be found here: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/world/360-video-ground-in-cyclone-zena-hit-nadi


Sega na leqa. We decided to scrap all of our plans and drive around Viti Levu, the big island of Fiji. We made our way first to Sigatoka, a coastal town known for its market. But, thanks to the new cyclone brewing, we couldn’t make it all the way to our homestays. We turned on the radio to hear a worried voice: “a level 2 cyclone is headed toward Fiji, and will center on Sigatoka. Expect flooding, high winds from 120-160 km per hour, and flying debris. It is advised that everyone take shelter within the next hour. High flood advisory for Sigatoka, please evacuate.” Hurriedly we cancelled our homestay plans and checked into a hotel on a hill, skidding out of town as the river rose.

Huddled in the darkness of our hotel rooms, without power, water, or backup funds (the SIT program changed our director’s credit card without notice, and it will take a month for the mail ship bearing the new card to reach Samoa), we waited. We told ghost stories, lit candles, listened to doors slam in the wind.

But sega na leqa. The forecast had been wrong, and the cyclone died out before the worst would have hit us. And so we drove to our village homestays, where at last, things started looking up. Our host families took us to coastal sand dunes, which towered 100 ft in the air and required us to scramble up almost vertical slopes to reach the crest of dunes. Still without power or water, we sat and socialized at night, cooking roti over open fires.


Atop the sand dunes

Atop the sand dunes


At last, the flooding subsided in Nadi, and we headed to the town. Our guide, Prem, loves spontaneity, and sega na leqa is his personal motto. When plans fell through he took us to his house for lunch, then promised to show us a special surprise later that day. We all piled into his van, and drove through town, looking at flood lines on buildings and riverbanks.

We wound through hills, and the planned, paved road turned to gravel, then to dirt, growing dustier and windier. At last, we parked on the side of the road. “Get out,” Prem ordered. “Here is your surprise.” We waded through knee-length grass, and found ourselves at the top of a mountain…transported to the cover of a National Geographic magazine. The land dropped away beneath us, giving way to rolling hills and a far-away sea, where we could see the silhouettes of neighboring islands.

Sometimes there are problems, and there are obstacles that block us from following our plans to the letter. But as we stood atop the mountain, gazing out at the lands that we been hurrying through the first part of the week, I realized that the whole time, we were exactly where we needed to be.


Our surprise

Our surprise


Sega na leqa, and here’s to all the best-laid plans that go awry.

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