Friday, January 13, 2012 thoughts

My friend Emily and I went on a quick, 3 day Carnival cruise from Miami to Nassau last weekend. It was a great time, the weather was sunny, the drinks and food were delicious, and our room on the ship was small but very comfortable. This isn't really about the cruise itself. It's about how I feel after finishing the cruise. When I got home, I read a book called "Cruise Confidential" by Brian Bruns. The book was supposed to give me additional insight into the lives of crewmembers...including where they live, eat, and party. I was fascinated during the cruise to learn that everyone working on a cruise ship is from another country.
During the cruise Emily and I made friends with two bartenders (or to be more exact, a bartender and a bar waiter). Daniel and Igor shared a bit about life on the ship.... including some of the crazy things they've seen.... and how hard they work. After the cruise, I was feeling like things were okay. The two of them were fun, and I hoped that we entertained them with our shenanigans as much as they entertained us with their stories and straw art. I felt like Emily and I were very low-key and didn't ask for or expect anything crazy.
Then I read the book. After reading, I remembered one of the bartenders telling us that they sign an 8 or 9-month contract, and generally they work about 75 hours a week. Think about that for a minute.... working 75 hours a week for 9 months...without one day off? I know that they are probably aware of what they are getting themselves into when they sign the contract. But I can't imagine feeling like that job is my only option for making decent money for me or to support my family.
The book did say that most of the staff members party.... hard. I can't say that I ever saw anyone looking less than sober, but I don't know that I was looking. I will say, after reading certain parts of the book, I can understand that if you worked that hard, you'd need to unwind quite a bit, and it sounded like Carnival knew how to facilitate the staff parties for a maximum amount of fun. My liver hurts thinking about it...then again, maybe I'm just a lightweight.
The book shed some light on the way that we as cruisers treat the staff. I generally think I'm pretty low maintenance (especially compared to a certain two people we ate our last dinner with). I'll order something, and then eat it. I'm not going to ask for special treatment...or ask for something that isn't on the menu. Apparently Emily and I are in the minority on this issue. We were both appalled at the behavior of some cruisers who feel so entitled, that they will forget that the wait staff are people.
I think when I really think about it, the cruise left a bad taste in my mouth because of how American's are portrayed (probably accurately so). I just don't like being grouped in the same company as people who feel that they are better than the wait staff, who talk louder to someone who might have an accent because English is their fifth language (especially when you can't even speak English correctly), or who are away from their family to try to earn enough money so their children can have a better life.
I regret not tipping our bartender friends extra. I regret not leaving a little extra cash for our room steward. I regret not finding a way to tip each and every waiter who waited on us, cleaned up for us at breakfast, or served us drinks on the deck. Basically I am feeling guilty for being lucky enough to live and work in the United States.
As someone who has traveled to many other countries, and seen poverty.... I’ve never felt this guilty for all I've been privileged to have. Needless to say, it will be quite some time before I go on another cruise. And if I do.... I’ll be bringing lots of small bills to tip everyone a bit extra (even if it is against the rules!)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I'm not in Kansas anymore....

Here are some fun facts from Thailand:

1. It's hot. Like really really hot. And you have to be outside in the heat, unlike at home when you can sit inside the comfort of your air conditioned house/car/business. And the humidity is a whole different level of horrible.

2. It's more international than I thought it'd be. When I got here from South Korea, I was surprised how many white people there were!

3. I suck at figuring out the exchange rate. I have to use a calculator. For some reason the math isn't working. 30 Baht = 1 dollar. It shouldn't be that hard. It is.

4. I'm really not good at bargaining. I always start too high.

5. Shouting at you is an excellent method of advertisement. "Hello Massage" is specifically what they are shouting. Like that will all the sudden make you think, you know....that's exactly what I want. I just didn't know it until you shouted that at me!

6. They absolutely LOVE their king and queen. Like there are a million pictures posted all over everywhere.

7. The king is fairly old, and when he dies, I think it will be major trouble for the country. (My opinion, no actual facts to back that up).

8. They do the no shoe thing as well when entering their home or a holy/sacred place like a temple. I like it, except when I need to go grab "one quick thing".

9. They are really good about building new buildings, but not so much about doing long term maintenance. When a building is too far gone, they just abandon it, leave the building to continue to decay, and build a new one. Maybe not the best city plan.

10. They have fun fruit. (Mangosteen, Dragonfruit, Rambutan)

11. There are a ton of temples here. I learned that there are like 400 in Bangkok alone. Clearly the three that I went to didn't even scratch the surface.

12. When you go to the temples, you have to have your shoulders and your legs covered. So even though it's about a million degrees outside, you have to be super covered up. I have yet to figure out how to do this without sweating through ALL of my clothes.

13. I love the skytrain (kinda above ground subway). We totally need this in the KC metro area! I have this all figured out. No worries.

14. There are lots of ladyboys here. (If you don't it without the kids around)

15. The Buddhist temples are beautiful to bring people happiness. They want you to be happy....just not too happy.

16. You cannot drink the water here. Bottled water is super cheap, but still annoying. (Just found out bottled water is NOT cheap at the airport, FYI)

17. There are no fat people. Like no one. I was shocked today when I saw someone big enough to qualify for the biggest loser. Seriously.

18. It isn't really that clean. For a city that pays people to clean the streets, it doesn't seem to be working. In fact, there are quite a few people whose job, it seems, is to stand around.

19. They love some strange combinations of food. McDonalds sells tuna and corn turnovers (like our apple pie ones, just gross).

20. I missed a lot while I was here. I will be back Thailand. I will be back.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cabbages and Condoms

From Thailand

Bet you are wondering what those two things have to do with each other. I was too when Shalinn suggested that we eat lunch there on my last day in Bangkok. But if Shalinn wanted to go, I knew it must be safe, because she seems to pick really good restaurants. So we walked from her apartment, turned off of a not so clean street (after walking by the worst smelling place I've smelled since I have been in Asia) onto a cute little sidewalk lined with bushes, trees, and vines. As we walk into the restaurant, I realize that I was not dressed appropriately. This was a FANCY place. They served Thai food. The food was good (although the green papaya salad was thai made me sweat) and the service great. Not only does Cabbages and Condoms have a restaurant, they also have 2 resorts located outside of bangkok. One is aptly named "Birds & Bees".

From Thailand

The idea behind the name stems from the fact that many years ago family planning did not exist in Thailand. Many families had 7 children or more. An association was formed called the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) <--- appropriate acronym? I think so! Today this association has programs that cover 1/3rd of Thailand, helping to lower the population growth rate from 3.2% to 1% (in comparison, the US's growth rate is 0.963%). PDA also established a national AIDS program that provides information on prevention of transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus. The restaurant and resorts were created to draw national and foreign attention to PDA's cause of teaching safe sex/family planning. So basically, the organization wanted condoms to be as normal and easily found as vegetables. So....I bring you the decor of Cabbages and Condoms.

From Thailand

From Thailand

From Thailand

And in case you wondered, they don't give mints at the end of the meal, they give condoms!

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Hello, Massage!"

This is the line that is yelled at you as you walk down the street in busy Hua Hin, and in some sections of Bangkok. So I figure that since I'm in Thailand, I should probably try a Thai massage. Thai massage is a no pain, no gain kind of thing. They push, stretch and pull on your muscles so that you end up in yoga poses. I guess that many people thing it helps to balance out your natural meridians, or something like that. I actually got a foot massage in Hua Hin. It was for an hour and was 250B ($8.40). This place was pretty small, only two chairs, and two workers. Some of you know, I've been having trouble with my feet, and I hoped that this would help. It didn't really help, but I also think she was a little nervous to actually use a ton of pressure. I wonder if she had really dug into my foot if it would have helped. Overall the foot massage was pretty good. A foot massage actually includes up to the thigh (or at least it did at this place) so she worked on not only my feet, but my calves, knees, and thighs. And actually, she did some back and shoulder work as well. I think it was well worth the money I spent.

From Thailand
photo from:

The second massage that I got was in Bangkok. Shalinn and I were looking online for a place close to where we were eating lunch (post about that to come!) and found the place I eventually went to. She did mention, that some places seemed really nice walking by, but when you looked online, they were "full service" massage parlors. Yikes! Needless to say, my place was not a full service massage place. It was actually a spa. I booked an hour and a half Thai massage for 600B ($20). I walked in, got a cup of tea and filled out a small sheet of paper. I was then escorted over to have my feet washed. Weird! Then after that, we walked to the room and I was given a special outfit to wear. To be honest, I couldn't figure out how to put the pants on. I put them on and tried to tie the thingy, and realized I'd have to tie it in the back, which I could hardly reach. So then I finally realized that I needed to turn the pants around. I am awesome.

From Thailand
photo from:

After that, it was a pretty traditional Thai massage. She massaged using her thumbs, knuckles, elbows, legs, and feet. It didn't hurt too badly, but I did ask her to be gentle. The hour and a half flew by. I was surprised at how quickly, and i really could have gone for at least another 30 minutes. Afterwards I changed back into my street clothes and we went back to the main lobby. As I was waiting for her to bring me back my shoes, she surprised me by bringing me green tea pudding. It was surprisingly good. Like, good enough that I'd want to eat more than I got. Then I got my shoes back, tipped her, and headed back to Shalinn's house.

Overall, I think that everyone who visits Thailand should try a Thai massage. It's different, but still a relaxing way to spend an hour or two.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

From Thailand

In Hua Hin I decided to go exploring on my own for a bit. I was wandering down a street that I'd seen, but hadn't gone down on previous walks. As I was walking by, I noticed two people sitting with their feet in a fish tank. Ever since my mom had a fish pedicure I wanted to get one. So I said yes to the 150B price tag, they wiped my legs and feet down and I plopped my feet in. You have to put part of your foot on the actual bottom of the tank for some reason, I think maybe so the fish can find you. At first, all of the fish were on the two British teens legs, but some of them finally came over to eat the dead skin from my feet. (I am sure this was all very sanitary....or not).

From Thailand

It really felt very ticklish at first, especially underneath my toes. There was one mean fish who I think actually had teeth, but even then, it didn't was just a little more aggressive in eating. About half-way through my "spa treatment" the two other people left. This left me with lots of fish...but they didn't seem to all attack me. I then convinced some old French guy to get a pedicure...thinking he spoke English. I guess he did not, and he didn't get the fact that I said it was ticklish before he put his feet in.

From Thailand

My time was up, and they came out, wiped my legs and feet off again, and off I went. To be honest, I don't think my feet felt any smoother. But it did make me want to get a real pedicure soon. Especially when I think about how gross this actually was.

Friday, July 08, 2011

I didn't care...

As I worked my way thorough the horrible curriculum, I realized that my heart just wasn't in it. I didn't know the students, couldn't make a connection with them since I had to switch classes each day. To be honest, I didn't even try to learn names.

Some things I noticed were that they were very hard a point. They got bored easily (sound familiar?) But instead of acting out, they got out their cell phones and started texting their friends, playing games, or they just flat put their head down on the desk and took a nap.

And you know what?? I didn't care. They were not getting a grade to be in the English camp. I didn't have anything invested with the students, and I don't know that many of them invested in the course. They had a post-exam today at 2pm. When I asked my class about it today, they said they didn't care. I don't know if this is true or not.

One thing I noticed was the quality of their work. This may be because I am used to elementary level work, but their in class posters were awesome! Here are a few examples:

From Gwang-Ju

From Gwang-Ju

The best thing about teaching the students was learning a few more games that "worked" with ESL students. The best one was Taboo. I found some cards online and printed them off, cut them out, and away we went. Here is a video of one of my classes playing taboo.

My other favorite thing was the questions they asked:

~ How old are you? That was quickly followed with: Do you have a boyfriend?
(I guess Korean women are supposed to be married by they were shocked when I wasn't really concerned about it).

~ When you have to use the toilet in America, how to do ask? When I responded with, "May I go to the restroom" they said...don't you say #1 or #2. I had wondered about this, but many Koreans seem to freely share that information when they are headed to the restroom. They didn't quite understand the idea that we don't share that information. That it is a "secret".

~ Where are you staying in Korea? When I responded in the dorms...they always asked, who is your roommate. I had to say my Mom. I felt a little bit like a loser every time I had to say that.

Here are some pictures of one of my classes:

From Gwang-Ju

From Gwang-Ju

From Gwang-Ju

Monday, July 04, 2011


Random Facts that I've learned about Korea

1. Koreans figure out their age differently than we do. When they are born, they are 1 year old (I've heard other ways of counting, so this may not be the exact Korean way). So all Koreans have a Korean age, and a "western" age.

2. Koreans love to hold hands. When I was out with my friends, we held hands. I have a really large hula hoop, so it was a little weird.

3. 95% of the restaurants in Korea serve Korean food. I'm not sure how they all make it...because there isn't really a difference between many of them. At least to me.

4. Koreans don't have anti-discrimination laws when they hire. When you submit a job application someplace, you also have to include a headshot!

5. All Korean men must serve in the military for two years. Women do not have to serve. However, when a man is hired at a job, he will make better money for the first two years to make up for this time serving his country.

6. Korean bathrooms do not have shower curtains. So everything gets wet...and I'm still mastering the art of taking a shower without getting all of our stuff wet.

7. South Korea has the second highest suicide rate in the developed world. Only Lithuania has a higher suicide rate the South Korea. In 2009, there were about 31 suicides per 100,000 people in South Korea. In the United States, there were about 11.

8. Smoking is still allowed in bars. I dislike this immensely.

9. "Back Gate" in Korean is "hoo moon" which sounds like "who moon".

10. The Korean version of google is called Naver.

11. Most Korean families have 2 fridges. One is only for kimchi...the other is for everything else.