Tag Archives: travel

Taking the Curves as Fast as I Can

Curves. They are all over the internet right now. Dove wants women to accept their curves (and buy more lotion in the process)  and England wants to see those curves in action. (Click here to see the video.)  But curves have taken on a whole new meaning in my life over the last few weeks, as I’ve been wrangling one or two myself. But, my curves have not been of the physical nature, but rather the learning kind. Learning curves. And they’ve been steep!

Two weeks ago, I started a new job at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur. I’m now working in the consular section, covering an array of tasks- everything from answering calls from people looking for information (Will the embassy exchange my US dollars to Malaysian ringgit? No. Do you keep a list of local doctors/lawyers? Yes. Can I renounce my citizenship? You bet, for $2350!) to doing intake of passports/paperwork for visa applicants (looking through passports from Spain, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc. is fascinating!) But, all of this requires a working knowledge of consular affairs that is a bit rusty in my mind. I was lucky enough to be able to take CONGEN in 2011(the consular training course for Foreign Service officers taught by the Foreign Service Institute in Virginia), but then I ended up not using that training in Chengdu, so the details are a bit foggy, but coming back quickly.

B1/B2 visa? Let’s scan a photo and send you off for fingerprints.

Looking for a student visa? Be sure to give me your SEVIS receipt.

Slowly, the jargon of the consular world is coming back to me. (It does help that I’ve heard it from Thad every day for the last two years as well!)

Needless to say, every day has been a new adventure for the past couple of weeks and I’m quickly getting to the point where I don’t have to put each and every caller on hold to go run down an answer. I’m up to every other caller on hold!

Way back in November, when I hadn’t heard any positive news about employment, I was nominated to sit on the embassy’s employee association board. Thinking it would be a great way to get out of the house and more involved in the community, I accepted the nomination and ran for a seat on the board. On my second day back in the office, I got an email saying I had been elected. So, add that to the calendar as well.  (Just yesterday we had our first meeting and I was assigned to be in charge of “events.” It looks like I’ll be going back to my CLO roots with that one!)

The second part of the curves thrown at me by the new job is relearning to budget my time. When I wasn’t working, days had a lot of spare time in them. Time for a second breakfast. (That may have contributed to some new curves in and of itself.) Time to stop for a hot chocolate at Starbucks before going to the grocery store. Time for an afternoon catnap. Time to finish a book a day. Time to work on reading and assignments for school.

All that time has flown out the window!

I went from searching for productive ways to fill my days (and looking for ways to be out of the house when Patimah was cleaning) to having a full schedule on a daily basis. As I’m facing down end-of-term papers for twelve credits of graduate courses, I’m thinking the learning curve for scheduling is looking more like a vertical line than a gentle slope, but I there is no activity on the list I want to give up, so I’ll just keep plugging away: work, school, events and then around the corner to do it all again!

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Wordless Wednesday: Kuching Orangutans

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Guest Blog Post: From Chengdu to Nairobi

We’re almost six months into our second tour and while we enjoyed our time in Chengdu, China, we wanted something completely different for our second tour. Now that we’re in Nairobi, Kenya, our wish was definitely granted. In many ways, life here is easier than it was in Chengdu:

  • The mail system is faster so my Amazon orders come at blazing speed (comparatively).
  • DAIRY! ALL THE DAIRY! I can drink fresh milk and eat cheese and yogurt and ice cream. NOM NOM!
  • I can find pretty much anything I need right here in Nairobi and not necessarily pay exorbitant foreign goods prices.
  • If I have a hankering for Indian food, DONE (and they deliver). Want Thai? DONE (and they also deliver). Pizza? Take your pick of about three different restaurants-all excellent!
  • Animals? YOU BETCHA! There is a park just 45 minutes away where you can see several of the Big 5. You can also feed giraffes and walk amongst baby elephants. All just a short car ride away.
  • But the best part? THE WEATHER! It’s so beautiful and perfect nearly all year round. Like the wee bear’s porridge, it’s not too hot nor too cold. As a woman who is not a fan of winter or bundling up, I was not sad at all to spend my Christmas day poolside slathered in sunscreen.

That said, it’s not always paradise:

  • There are real dangers and threats and you do need to be on your guard.
  • This is not a walkable city nor is there reliable and safe public transportation so having a car is a must.
  • The roads are terrible so you will be spending more on car maintenance than you probably would in the States.
  • It’s true that things move at a different pace here in Africa and sometimes it makes you want to jab a pen in your eye.

All in all, this place is a refreshing change of pace and while we have always been ambivalent about Africa, we have quickly come to appreciate all the perks and quirks of Kenya. We have liked it so much that if we were allowed to extend here (entry-level doesn’t have that option), we probably would. Our daughter can’t imagine leaving and there are so many great things to see and do here. I’m glad we were assigned here because I don’t think we would have voluntarily chosen to bid hard on Africa but we can see why people fall in love with it and never leave.

Kenya-for the win.

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An Interview with ExpatFinder.com

A few months ago, I was interviewed by ExpatFinder.com about my experiences living in Kuala Lumpur. That interview finally went live yesterday, so I thought I would share of bit of it here. (ExpatFinder.com is a website that helps people who are moving abroad with everything from finding housing and schools for their kids to providing information about insurance and jobs in their new homes.)

For those of us doing the ex-pat thing in conjunction with the US Department of State, we are lucky to have many of these issues either taken care of for us or have help from post once we arrive to sort out the rest. Not everyone has such a strong support system, so websites like ExpatFinder.com are crucial to making the moves easier.

Below are a few outtakes from the interview. The full thing can be found by clicking here.

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: After serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years, moving “home” just felt too small when there was a whole world out there to explore.

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you’ve had when you were new in your host country?

A: Malaysia has been an easy transition, but I’d say the toughest part is getting used to the driving style, which is very different from driving norms in the US.

Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Malaysia? How did you manage to find a social circle in Malaysia?

A: There is a huge ex-pat community in Kuala Lumpur, so new folks will find a variety of ways to get involved with others with the same interests. The biggest international school, ISKL, is a great starting point for that for kids with families. There are also a number of Facebook pages dedicated to ex-pat living, as well as local publications that can assist in the process.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: The travel out of KL is great. Air Asia is a good way to hop to nearby countries for long weekends or extended vacations. I love taking visitors to the KL Bird Park, which is always a hit with young and old alike.

Q: How does the cost of living in Malaysia compared to your home?

A:  Expat living in KL can be quite expensive, especially for me since I was previously living in western China. You can find nearly anything your heart desires, but you will probably pay a pretty penny for it.

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Malaysia?

A: Malaysia is great for travel and I love the warm weather. The hardest part of living here is dealing with the traffic and just the sheer distance back to the States. With no direct flights from KL to the US, going home or getting guests out can be quite an ordeal.

Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: Each new country is just a matter of adjusting to a new way of doing things. Learning to pick up on the subtleties of a new culture is important, but never easy.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country?

A: I’d say connect with other ex-pat before arriving, if at all possible. They will be able to help you find those much-desired goodies from home at the supermarkets, point you in the right direction for whom to trust with your blonde highlights or give you the name of an honest and reliable taxi driver.

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In Search of the End of the Sidewalk: The Best of 2014

It is that time of year, where all bloggers worth their salt come out with their year-end roundup lists and since this blogger likes sodium chloride as much as the next writer, I’ll continue the tradition here at In Search of the End of the Sidewalk. (This is the 4th edition. You can click here to see reviews for 2011, 2012 and 2013.)

So, without further ado, here is the best of everything 2014! (“Everything” might be a bit ambitious with just a single full day left on the calendar…)

Best Books of 2014

Thanks to my trusty GoodReads account I was able to quickly go over my literature intake since January 1. If my count is right (remember folks, I’m working on a degree in literature these days, none of that fancy math nonsense for me!), this year my total book count is a whopping 153!! Keep in mind, several factors play into that overwhelming large number, including the fact that I have been unemployed for the last seven months and I’m working on a literature degree, which means not only am I reading for fun, I’m also reading for class. Oh, the books! The books! (Although, I must be doing something wrong when I add books to my “read” shelf. GoodReads had a cool link to show your books for the year, but when I clicked it, it showed I had read a mere two books this year. I read that many in a week sometimes! Anyone know what I am doing wrong?)

{Don’t forget to click on the links to related posts!}

5- California by Edan Lupucki

4- The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

3- Redeployment by Phil Klay

2- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

1-Hard Choices by Hilary Rodham Clinton

(This was a hard list to make. Next year, I may have to break it down to top five non-fiction, top five young adult and top five fiction, as it is hard to compare/judge the two genres.)

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Best Outings of 2014

(*In no particular order)

5- Hawaii. We started 2014 off with a bang, meeting my parents in Hawaii for a seven-day cruise around the islands. Between snorkeling, whale watching and kayaking, we found time for lots of all-you-can-eat buffets and nightly shows in the ship’s auditorium. Happy 2014!

4- Hong Kong. This was our last “China-vacation” before leaving post and what a great way to wrap up our first tour with the Foreign Service. While I didn’t love the cable car, the Buddha at the top was worth the terror and the funicular up Victoria’s Peak was a ride much more my style. We stayed at a great boutique hotel just a short walk from the metro and loved the ease of getting around this crazy, bustling Asian mega-city.

3- Kuching, Malaysia. By far my favorite city in Malaysia. What can beat a cave filled with bats, a day of rainforest hiking or a visit to wild orangutans?

2- Nampa, Idaho. Home leave! It is a fabulous perk of the Foreign Service, that after a tour abroad, officers and families are *required* to spend some time back Stateside. While for some this can be a burden, we’re lucky to have lots of family and friends willing to let us crash with them for days/weeks at a time.

1-Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, of course! A new country, a new city and a new home! It is always exciting (and intimidating, tiring, frustrating, invigorating…) to move to a new post, but so far, KL has been a great city to call home. Not only have we explored various parks within the city, but this year was the first time we’ve hosted a Thanksgiving, complete with friends, old and new.

*Honorable mention: New Meadows, Idaho. While on home leave, we bought twelve acres of beautiful mountain top just outside of New Meadows. Right now it is home to bears and deer and lots of small mountain mammals, but maybe when we retire in a million years, it will be home to us too!

Best Moments of 2014

(*Again, in no particular order)

5- Birth of our newest nibling- Camden Byron McDaniel, the youngest (and last?) child of my brother and sister-in-law. His arrival makes for a grand total of twelve niblings: six on Thad’s side and six on mine. We’ve yet to meet in person, but I see his chubby self on FaceTime every week or so.

4- Volunteering at the UNHRC school for Chin students in downtown Kuala Lumpur. This was a great opportunity to put my teaching skills to use and to introduce not only American vocabulary (Malaysian English tends to be quite British), but also talk about school culture in the US, where many of these students hope to be resettled.

3- Going back to school. This fall, I started an online graduate program in literature and writing. It has kept me busy, but I am loving the reading and writing and discussions with my classmates. Nerdily enough, I even love writing the term papers! (A big thank you goes out to my two editors: Matt and Angie!)

2- A new job! Technically, this won’t happen until 2015, as I start in mid-January, but getting hired in 2014 is a win. It was not easy to find work in Kuala Lumpur and it definitely wasn’t easy to get multiple rejection emails, but in the end, things seem to have worked out and soon I’ll be having to roll out of bed and get dressed with the rest of you!

1- Meeting the First Lady of the United States. It was a lot of work to prepare for her visit to Chengdu, but it was all worth it when the Consul General called me over and said to FLOTUS, “Michelle, I’d like you to meet our Michelle.”  She said she wondered who the tall blonde woman was and I told her I had spent the morning being her stand-in for height measurements!

So there you have it, the 4th edition of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s year-end roundup. As I look ahead to 2015, big plans are bouncing around my gray matter (although I think it is more pink than gray, which we all know I prefer anyway), looking to claim a spot in my continued search for the end of the sidewalk.

Happy 2015!

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Christmas in Krabi

Weathermen can’t be trusted. (Apologies in advance to all of my loyal readers of the weatherperson persuasion.) As far as I am concerned, weather prediction is right up there with fortune telling and tarot card reading. It is all a guess. Possibly an educated guess, depending on the information being provided, but in the end, the predictor is a teller of tales. Maybe it will rain. Maybe you will marry the billionaire man of your dreams and live on a yacht. Maybe the empress card will be drawn and in nine months you will welcome a new addition to your family. Maybe. On a scale of not possible-probable-likely, these three divinations rank in the same place: possible, but not probable.

This last weekend, we went to Krabi, Thailand to celebrate the long Christmas weekend. (Thank you President Obama for granting all federal workers Friday off!) We got in late on Thursday night, so just had dinner at our hotel restaurant and wandered the grounds to get a feel for our surroundings. (oh yes, and to the family mart to buy the toothpaste that we each thought the other had packed.)

But on Saturday, we were ready to hit the town. Our first stop was the beach, via tuk-tuk, of course. We grabbed a quick lunch at a diner along the way and then wandered down the shoreline. An armada of long boats was leaving the beach as we walked, their colorful flags waving their departure as they headed out with loads of people bound for snorkeling on various islands just beyond sight. Farther up the beach, we found a small cove overrun with macaque monkeys. These being my least favorite of the primates, I kept my distance. No need to get chased into the ocean by an evil little creature on the first day in town. I’ll happily enjoy their partner grooming and fruit-throwing antics from afar.

As the afternoon rain set in, we headed back to the hotel for a bit of downtime, out of the pouring rain and to regroup before heading back to town for dinner and nighttime meandering.

Evening in Krabi is a fantastic time of day. I love it! The sun has set, meaning for the first time all day I am not baking like a toasted cheeser. (Yes, I ended up with a sunburn, but a rather mild one. All said and done, I think I had more pain from the back massage I got than the reddening of my skin, so for a tropical vacation, this counts as a win in my world!) Night is when the shops really get hopping, strings of fairy lights are everywhere and flyers for everything from massages and pedicures to all manner of fashion/variety shows dance on the sidewalk where they’ve been abandoned by hapless passersby.

It was during this evening stroll that I happened upon my new BFF: Jackie. Jackie is a gibbon who, along with his owner, hangs out on the street at night to make a baht or two off tourists. I am just the sucker he is out there for. I will gladly pay 100 baht (just over $3) to hold his fuzzy little self and take a few photos. Much like the Agnes in Despicable Me, when she spots the stuffed unicorn and squeals, “It’s so fluffy, I’m gonna’ die!” I wanted to squeeze his little self until I died. There were definitely thoughts of just sprinting away, Jackie clinging to my neck. I am sure that plan would have worked out well…

On Friday night, we made a plan for Saturday that included packing up one of the backpacks with towels and books and heading to the beach for the day. After walking its length the day before, I was excited to go hang out and do some serious people watching. (Krabi was *amazing* for people watching. I could sit for hours and examine the varied- both in terms of style and quality- tattoos adorning youthful bodies in their late teens to a bit more saggy versions on the senior set. And, apparently, bikinis are no longer just for those with model-like bodies, as I saw women of every shape and size sporting two-piece swimming outfits. Big and small, young and old, bellies all over southern Thailand were soaking of the sun this Christmas holiday.)

But, thanks to the roll of the dice/fortune cookie type predications foretold by weather.com, my Saturday plans had to be reworked. You see, clad in my own two-piece bathing suit, I decided to do a quick weather check before we headed out for the day. Knowing it is rainy season, we expected showers at some point in the day, so were just trying to figure out how early we should head to the beach. Well, weather.com predicted 95% chance of rainfall starting at 10AM. 95%! That’s not a “maybe” kind of prediction. 95% pretty much means that short of divine intervention, it is going to rain in the 10 o’clock hour. It had the same percentage for 11AM and noon, dropping off to and holding steady at 80% from 1PM until evening.

95% chance of rain means a change in plans.

Rather than set up on the beach, only to be run off by heavy rain, we decided to go for a walk, having lunch at a restaurant on the beach (with umbrellas) and then see where the rest of the day took us. Our morning at the beach was called off.

Did it rain on Saturday?

Nope. Not a single drop. The entire day.

I could have had hours of watching the pasty folks from Eastern Europe turn pink and then red in the glaring sunshine of the tropics. I could have shooed off hawkers trying to get me to put my blonde, lower-back length hair into cornrows that would look about as ridiculous as a cat wearing a party hat. I could have enjoyed a corn on the cob, roasted on the beach.

I could have…

But, I didn’t. I gave in to the Nostradamus-like predictions of weather.com and nixed my plans for lounging on the beach. It is my one regret of the weekend. (On the upside, I did run into Jackie again, so took a second opportunity to snuggle the adorable little gibbon!)

Weathermen of the world, you may have foiled me this time, but I’m on to you. From here forward, your predictions of chance shall be left where they belong, on the boardwalks of Coney Island and in the dark parlors of Victorian England. Get thee hence!

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Weekending in Kuching- Part 2

Day two!!

On our second day in Kuching, we headed to Bako National Park, a preserve on the edge of the island that can only be reached by boat. (Edward, the all-knowing cabbie, informed us that the idea was that if a road was built, resorts would soon follow so to help maintain the wilderness, it was a boat-only outing.) We hopped into our boat with semi-functional life vests over our shoulders (mine didn’t actually zip closed, but I figured the crocodiles would get me before I drowned, so it didn’t really matter in the long run) and headed out about fifteen minutes across the estuary and ocean to a jetty on a bay at the edge of the national park. We bumped across some pretty impressive swells, each one reminding me that less than six months ago I broke my tailbone- a slight twinge running up my spine as the boat touched down time and time again.

After checking in at the headquarters and being given a map with some crazy highlighting on it, off we headed to our first trail of the day. We wanted to take the trail marked with the white blazes, so were excited to quickly see red and white stripes painted on trees. Figuring the two trails (red and white) followed each other for a bit, up the mountainside we went, being careful not to grab the thorny trees for balance along the way. Up, up, up we went. Sometimes the climbs were man-built stairs and others they were just a matter of scrambling over tree roots, but follow the trail we did. After slipping down a hill and dangling from a tree branch, I found my footing and resumed the trek up the hill. Just as I was hitting the point of being pretty tired and questioning my sanity for having embarked on this outdoor activity, we came to ridge with a beautiful view of the ocean and a sign signaling the end of the trail.

What? The end? This isn’t where my sidewalk trail is supposed to end!

Apparently, the red/white trail is different from either the red or the white trail. We had wandered off in completely the wrong direction of our intended destination, but were rewarded with a view that spanned miles and a trail without a single other human being on it. (I’d suggest more color variety in future blazes! Instead of going red, white, and red and white, why not go with a lovely purple or a vibrant teal?! It would save my legs some burning.)

Time to backtrack and find the illusive white, only white, trail.

Once we were headed the right way, our white trail sightings included a snake across the pathway (not fun!), a spider nearly the size of my fist in a web that was probably five feet across and several macaques having fruit for lunch, husks of which rained down on us as we gawked from below.

And remember how sweaty I said I was at the caves on day one? That was nothing! That was like a walk across Target’s parking lot in May. After hiking in the rainforest for a few hours, I looked like I had stepped right out of a shower. My ponytail was drenched, with water actually dripping off the end of it; my tank tops where wet through and through; and, for the first time ever in my life, I actually had sweat dripping off the tip of my nose! I’ve seen that happen to people in movies and hardcore athletes, but for this rather stationary literature major, it was a new experience.

The best part of the white trail was, after hiking up and down the side of the mountain, we suddenly rounded a corner and there was the ocean: blue skies, sandy beaches, rocky outcroppings full of tide pools and waves rolling in one after another. It was gorgeous! I wasted no time finding a good “poking stick” (for the tide pools, of course) and headed out across the beach to the rocks to see what I could see. My favorite find of the day was the mudskippers. What cool little creatures! (I had no idea what they were as I poked at them. Fish? Reptiles? They could cling to rocks and run on top of waves. What the heck?! I had to send a photo to my nerdy science niece and ask for a full report.)

After fully exploring the beach and tide pools, we figured it was time to head back to HQ for some lunch, but no one was looking forward to retracing the ups and downs of the trail we had just followed. Thad said the ranger told him sometimes boats would occasionally pull into the bay and we could hire one to take us back by water, and sure enough, a guy in a boat was waiting out to sea a bit. Thad signaled to him and in he came, pulling as close to the beach as he could get, but obviously without a jetty, not being able to tie up anywhere. So, off came the shoes and we all did a bit of wading, hoping into the boat from a rather slippery rock. (Only one shoe ended up going for a swim. Not a bad record. 1 out of 8 shoes remained dry.)

The boat ride back included a detour to see a cool rock formation, another beautiful bay (this one has a hiking trail to it, so it is on the list for next time we visit the park, which we will be doing!) and then a second chance at wading in the ocean, this time from boat to shore.

After a quick bite to eat in the cafeteria, I wanted to go in search of bearded pigs. (Lunch would be the very unsuccessful part of the day, as the food looked quite unappealing. It was a small buffet, but the food all looked like it had been on the warmers since breakfast and there wasn’t much there that made me want to dig in, even after a morning of hiking. I opted for a package of cookies and a Coke. Maybe it wasn’t the healthiest lunch, but the sugar rush sure was nice!) When I cleaned up our table (something that seemed to surprise the cafeteria worker), I went and asked where I should go in search of pigs. The man I asked laughed and said they were “random.” Sadly, after an hour of wandering, I came across no random pigs. Something else to add to my “next time” list. There will definitely be a next time! (Shannon and Joe. Josh and Justin. We are going.)

Exhausted, we all boarded the boat back to Kuching (again, life jackets were handed out, but I still figure I’ll be a croc’s lunch before I’ll be rescued) and after some much needed showers and a quick nap, we ended the day with another feast of seafood (I opted for butter chicken and fried noodles) on the top of a parking garage.

Two fantastic days in the capital of Sarawak…but wait, that’s not all! Stay tuned for one more day of Kuching adventuring… next up: orangutans and long houses!

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