Sunday, April 24, 2016

lessons learned from the back of a scooter

Life has been crazy busy lately. We just finished up third quarter and are moving into the last 10 weeks of this school year, which makes me happy and a little sad because I adore my current batch of students. The end of the quarter means we just had midterm exams, and I had 120 of them to grade (and I was the idiot who didn't make them multiple choice). 

On top of that, I am going to be the mentor teacher to a student teacher starting tomorrow, which is a circumstance that will last for the next five weeks. I am excited and nervous at the same time. I have never mentored a student teacher before; my personality means that I am petrified about this and eager about it all at the same time, which is actually a pretty exhausting state to be in, so I can't wait to just dive in tomorrow so I can stop anticipating it. 

Even more, I had a house full of chores that could not be put off any longer. I am talking a cockroach in the sink (which was a shock to me, otherwise I obviously would have done the dishes sooner), a 3-foot tall pile of laundry to tackle, and, even worse than the cockroach, we have been using napkins from takeout as toilet paper for a few days. 

Suffice it to say, on Friday morning, I was not exactly looking forward to the busy weekend ahead. 

But then, on Friday afternoon, right before I left work to go home and grade, a friend mentioned scooting to Sheipa National Park on Saturday. We had talked about it in passing earlier last week before I realized just how slammed I was going to be with work and life. I left work telling her I would let her know that night if I wanted to go, fully anticipating the answer would be: sorry, I can't.

Husband and I went home from school and ended up having some serious and unfun conversations about work. Feeling like we needed a pick-me-up, we went out on a date to one of our favorite restaurants in Hsinchu. I came home at 8pm and realized that I didn't get anything I had planned to do upon returning home from work done, mainly the manic grading of a stack of exams. 

Instead, I had fun with my husband and felt good. 
Before I knew it, I sent my friend a message saying: let's do it.
It was complete impulse and something that I just felt I had to do. 

So I woke up early Saturday morning and had quite the adventure in the mountains. The long drive was so much better than last time because there were no rainstorms, mud slides or heavy fog impeding our journey (and this time I didn't even want to cry once). However, I did almost run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and my scooter did backfire quite a few times over the course of the five hour scoot. We hiked, took a lot of pictures, talked a lot and had a wonderful time. 

I returned home Saturday night feeling awesome and hunkered down to work.

And I finished after 6 or so hours of intense concentration. 
Just like that.

What would have taken me days to do took hours because I had the focus and the will power to finish. And I realized it had everything to do with putting off work for long enough to date my husband and enjoy my friend and the mountains. 

So much of the time when we say I can't!I'm busy! what we really mean is I don't want to because I have too much other bad stuff to do.

But making a crazy busy weekend even more crazy busy by finding time to treat myself to joy and friendship made life so much better, crazy busy work weekend and all. I also somehow found time to buy adorable succulents and get a fresh fruit smoothie and grab lunch with my husband too. Now, we are about to hunker down and watch a movie. 

The funniest part? 

I am convinced that if I had decided to have a different kind of weekend-- the one in which I was planning to have inclusive of staying in my PJs and "working" the entire time-- I still wouldn't be done with grading 120 exams, annotating assignments for my student teacher, making Prezis for class, doing the laundry, dishes, and grocery shopping, Skyping family & friends, and I'd be a total grump. But instead, I am done with everything and then some and feeling awesome about the good times I had this weekend. 

So this is the lesson I learned from the back of my scooter: 
don't kid yourself-- you are rarely so busy that you have no time for some fun!  

Friday, April 22, 2016

cruising halong bay, part III: the many faces of a halong bay sunset

I'm not sure a better setting exists for admiring a sunset than Halong Bay. Imagine a beautiful wooden boat with sails. Imagine a spacious bow deck with sun chairs. Imagine warm and pleasant air. Imagine towering rocks jutting out of beautiful blue-green water. Imagine the sky turning shades of blue black white and gray. Imagine soft pinks & purples. Imagine a deep gold. Imagine all of this from the isolation of a deserted bay in Halong Bay. 

Magical, huh?
What was your best sunset while travelling??

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

cruising halong bay, part II: kayaking & spelunking

Our Halong Bay cruise offered an assortment of activities over the course of our three day trip. Obviously, just because you go on the cruise does not mean you have to participate in the activities. Due to our amazing deck, we were sorely tempted to leave our room. However, two activities did beckon us off of the boat: kayaking & spelunking. 

I spent my college summers working at a marina in Washington State. We had free access to the rental kayaks when we were off duty. My friend and I had way too much fun renting those clunky, bright orange kayaks and paddling around the bay. My dad also had three kayaks, and he would take me out sometimes in his double. 

I have a serious thing for the water and kayaking! 

Our time kayaking in Halong Bay was magnificent. We were brought to a deserted & mellow bay where we could swim safely and kayak without fear of being sucked into hidden cave networks (yes, that does happen). We spent an hour or so paddling from sea stack to sea stack and then another hour or so swimming and floating in clean, fresh, blue-green water. It was wonderful! 

Another day, our day boat took us to the entrance of gigantic cave and we spent hours wandering the cave network (and maybe Sean climbed onto one or two of the rocks). I don't have any pictures of that, but trust me: it was a blast! 

We certainly skipped out on many of the offered activities, but we were more than happy to lounge on our amazing deck and just take in the views. 

The views from the kayaks sure didn't suck either. 

  • Be very careful when kayaking in Halong Bay! There have been some drownings and many cases of inexperienced kayakers running into trouble with the strong currents, especially near deep caves. Not all cruises offer well maintained equipment and not all cruises choose safe places to drop travelers into the water for a paddle or swim. You kinda get what you pay for, so if your cruise is super cheap, don't count on someone else to look out for your safety. Do that for yourself. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

cruising halong bay, part I: that green water & those towering dragons

Our three day, two night cruise through Halong Bay in Vietnam is hands down the most expensive adventure we have ever undertaken while on a vacation. Our three days cost us $1,200 USD. I know. That's an ungodly amount of money for three days. However, you can cruise Halong Bay for much cheaper. Our price tag was so high for three reasons: the company we chose, the duration of the cruise and the room we booked.

Before flying to Vietnam for our two week trip, we knew Halong Bay was going to cost more than the other 9 days of our trip combined. But we decided to go big, so we booked with Paradise Cruise, which is a more pricey company. This company offers cruises that take you far, far away from the congestion of the dock and immediate bays. Our cruise came with candlelit meals, kayaking, spelunking, beach lounging and exceptional food! Paradise also transferred us onto a small day boat that could take us where the larger, overnight boats are not allowed once we made it deep into the bay. We also chose to spend three days on the boat rather than taking a simple half-day tour. Further, we booked the nicest (and most expensive) cabin on the boat. All of those choices skyrocketed our bill.

However, I don't regret it one bit.

Our cabin had a very large deck that took up half of the bow of the boat. It came with two sun chairs and a table and the most amazing views. The two nights we spent lounging on deck watching the sunset and the stars made the price tag totally worth it. Likewise, we didn't bat an eye at the cost when we watched two sunrises while sipping coffee from our private deck.

The other rooms on board either had very small and cramped side balconies or no balcony at all. On the very top of the vessel was a large area with a bunch of chairs so everyone with those rooms could still lounge and enjoy the view, however, I like my privacy and I didn't really want to share those moments with 20 random strangers.

Our cabin also came with great amenities, and we seriously had the experience of a life time. When we go back to Halong Bay, we will totally spend that much again to have another great experience!

Because I was so happy to find my pictures after two years of them being missing-in-action, I am going to share them with you in three parts. The first part, this part, is all about that beautiful green-blue water and the tall crags that myths attribute to dragons. The second installment will be all about our adventures kayaking and spelunking (and monkey spotting). The last will be all about sunrises & sunsets (it is my favorite in the series).

So stay tuned for snippets of paradise coming soon!

  • The drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay is going to take a lot longer than you think. Our van ride took a little less than 5 hours when it should have taken 3.5. The road conditions are not great, and neither are Vietnamese driving skills. I white knuckled it the entire time. Our driver drove in the middle of the two lane road at high speeds for the entire time, often passing cars on dangerous corners or stretches of highway. Also, our driver stopped at two shopping areas trying to get everyone to purchase stuff. I am sure he got some percentage of whatever his van load paid. Overall, it was a pretty rough trip out to the bay. I'm not even sure taking a taxi would improve the overall driving experience. 
  • Many, many cruisers were very displeased with the procedure for embarking. Luckily, since our cruise was more expensive, we got to skip this hassle. People easily waited in a cramped room for 2-3 hours before getting to step onto their boats. Overall, if you booked a less than luxury cruise, be prepared to wait a long time after actually arriving at the dock.  

Check out Travel Tuesday for more travel stories!