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

1Hard 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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Putting the “Fun” in Funicular

Often, I reference my non-existent bucket list and my lack of New Year’s resolutions, but one thing I do keep track of is my modes of transportation. I love to rack up as many different ones as I can in a single trip, but am more exciting when I can experience a brand new one. Our long weekend in Hong Kong (it’s Tomb Sweeping Day in China) gave me the chance to do just that- ride a funicular! How have I never done this before? It was a weird cross between a trolley car and a roller coaster, having the size and speed of the trolley, but the steepness of that initial assent to the peak of a roller coaster. Since our funicular was red, in my mind, all I could think of as I watched it make its trips in and out of the station was Mr. Roger’s trolley car (although ours had a black roof, rather than the ever-memorable yellow one in the Neighborhood.) Still, I couldn’t wait to take my place on the wooden bench and steel my abs for the ascent that pretty much crushed all of my body weight onto my backbone.

Up and down Victoria’s Peak on the funicular was definitely worth the hour wait on the bottom and the shorter, but much windier/rainier wait on the top. (We somehow made it to the top just as a crazy rainstorm hit the peak, with the wind pushing the rain UP the mountain and enshrouding the whole thing in a massive cloud.)

The weekend was one of “rides,” although not all were as fun as the funicular. (Come on, it has fun in its name. How could it not be fantastic?) Sadly, death-defying-cable-car swinging –from-a-not-nearly-stable-enough-metal-rope has the word “fun” nowhere in its description. But, on it I went. At the other end of the ride was a beautiful, bronze, sitting Buddha that I absolutely wanted to see, but getting there was a mental challenge, to say the least. I don’t do heights. It isn’t a conscious choice to not like them, but more in lines of a phobia- I know it isn’t rational and yet when my pulse starts racing and my stomach churns, threatening to bring breakfast back and my palms get clammy, there is little I can do.

After waiting two hours in line to get tickets for the cable cars, it was finally time to head to the top of the mountain. (Who waits two hours and then pays money to be terrified? What a ridiculous idea! Plus, it didn’t help that for the entire two hours, I had to watch the cable cars going up and over the mountain, reminding me of just what I didn’t want to do.) When we got to the ticket counter, we could choose between the glass-bottomed cable car or the standard one. Thad was really leaning towards the glass bottomed one, but I convinced him that if I were going to go on this death trap, I’d rather go on one where I could at least stare at the floor and pretend I was on level ground the whole ride up, rather than being able to see my death hurtling towards me. So, standard carriage, roundtrip it was.

Fear brings out the four letter words in my vocabulary. Going up, there was a lovely family (mom, dad and young daughter) who decided it would be a great idea to stand up and take pictures of the 360 degree views of Hong Kong. I get why they would want that, but come on people! Let’s not jiggle this dangling car any more than necessary. Get your ass on the tram, sit down and don’t stand up again until we reach the other end of the ride. No standing and repositioning. No posing for selfies by the door. NO MOVING! Luckily for me, this lovely family was deaf. That meant I could grumble away with a sailor’s tongue and native language didn’t matter. Their lack of hearing meant I didn’t even have to measure the tone of my tirade. Nice. (I was blown away by how many people in Hong Kong speak English and definitely had to sensor my random comments, which I can make loudly, with impunity in Chengdu. In Hong Kong, I had to be a little more careful about commenting on the hairstyle of the woman right next to me on the subway or deriding the etiquette of the oblivious middle-aged man who cut me off as we crossed the crowded intersection.)But seriously people, find your seat, put your ass on the bench and spend the next twenty-five minutes praying to whichever high power you believe in; whatever it takes to get us to the top safely!

I must admit, coming back down the mountain was a bit less harrowing. My adrenaline stores had been fully depleted on the trip up the mountain, so coming back down, I felt more resigned to my possible fate. If Death decided to come knocking at my door, there wasn’t much I could do to turn him away. My eyes were open (almost) the whole way down and my swearing was kept to a minimum, partially because I didn’t have the good luck to return with the deaf family and mostly because I tired and ready to move on to a new adventure. I had read the map/information handout about the Buddha entirely, front to back, every caption and asterisked bit of information as a distraction on the way up, so coming down I had no choice but to hang on to the center pole with white knuckles and scan the horizon for possible hazards, all the while keeping a keen eye on the cable itself. (How often do they check that thing for fraying?)

Since you are reading this, it is a fair assumption that I survived the cable car, a slight bit traumatized, but in the long run, none-the-worse for the experience. And while I have been on my share of cable cars in the past (you’d think I’d learn!), this was definitely the longest and earns a spot in my transportation annals.

It only took four years of China living, but we finally made it to Hong Kong! (Another check on the non-existent bucket list and no new stamp in my passport.)

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