A Year in Photographs!!

I loved photography before, but I love it even more now!! This year was great for photography! I finally spoiled myself with a DSLR camera, that I’m still learning to use… I’ll be a pro at it someday! And I was insanely spoiled with living on a gorgeous island that I never got sick of taking pictures of! Here is a little gallery of my favorite snapshots of the year… One for every month! Plus my favorite picture from each country I visited while I was here. (I have a feeling this is going to be rather difficult to just pick ONE for each month… We’ll see how it goes.) Enjoy!

February 2012

The start to an amazing adventure!

The start to an amazing adventure!

March 2012

Me, Jeong-eun, Hyun-jeong, and Seunghee... Who became my little Korean family!

Me, Jeong-eun, Hyun-jeong, and Seunghee… Who became my little Korean family!

April 2012

The start of my Olle journey!

The start of my Olle journey!

May 2012

Teaching with my co-teacher and good friend, Eun-mi!

Teaching with my co-teacher and good friend, Eun-mi!

Probably the cutest face in all of Osaka, Japan!

Probably the cutest face in all of Osaka, Japan!

June 2012

Being silly with Hyae-jeong, Jyoo-yun, and Ji-su at the English Story Telling Competition!

Being silly with Hyae-jeong, Jyoo-yun, and Ji-su at the English Story Telling Competition!

July 2012

Jun-hyung stole my slippers for the story book I made called "Brooke's Slippers!"

Jun-hyung stole my slippers for the story book I made called “Brooke’s Slippers!”

August 2012

Damage at the school from Typhoon Bolaven.

Damage at the school from Typhoon Bolaven.

Climbing the Great Wall of China outside Beijing!

Climbing the Great Wall of China outside Beijing!

The horse I named Marida (means 'horse' in Korean) that I rode for 9 days all of the rolling, green steppes near Ulan Baatar, Mongolia!

The horse I named Marida (means ‘horse’ in Korean) that I rode for 9 days all over the rolling, green steppes near Ulan Baatar, Mongolia!

September 2012

Jin-sook made a delicious dinner for Grandma's visit!

Jin-sook made a delicious dinner for Grandma’s visit!

October 2012

Three cuties selling peanuts in Puerto Princessa City on Palawan Island in the Philippines!

Three cuties selling peanuts in Puerto Princessa City on Palawan Island in the Philippines!

A lovely time with my grandma's old school mate, Carole, and her husband, Jim, on their visit to Jeju!

A lovely time with my grandma’s old school mate, Carole, and her husband, Jim, on their visit to Jeju!

November 2012

On Chuja Island hiking the hardest Olle!

On Chuja Island hiking the hardest Olle!

Sticka Foto session for my 24th birthday with Karima & Billy!

Sticka Foto session for my 24th birthday with Karima & Billy!

December 2012

Putting together a puzzle on Christmas with Becca and a couple of Sarah's students!

Putting together a puzzle on Christmas with Becca and a couple of Sarah’s students!

Was able to talk and Skype with family back home and even open presents "with" them on Christmas!

Was able to talk and Skype with family back home and even open presents “with” them on Christmas!

January 2013

An amazing day on Olle 14-1! Thank you to Sarah, Hannah, and Dominique for making it so much fun!!!

An amazing day on Olle 14-1! Thank you to Sarah, Hannah, and Dominique for making it so much fun!!!

Going through the low-ceilinged caves on the Tam Coc River near Hanoi, Vietnam!

Going through the low-ceilinged caves on the Tam Coc River near Hanoi, Vietnam!

Spending the day feeding, riding, and bathing elephants near Chiang Mai, Thailand!!

Spending the day feeding, riding, and bathing elephants near Chiang Mai, Thailand!!

February 2013

Karima, Sarah, and Hannah hiked Hallasan!! It's a volcanic mountain on Jeju Island and the highest point in South Korea! (Very sore for days after!)

Karima, Sarah, Hannah, and I hiked Hallasan!! It’s a volcanic mountain on Jeju Island and the highest point in South Korea! (Very sore for days after!)

Jeju, it’s been great! It has definitely been the best year of my life thus far!! There were so many new adventures and food and FRIENDS!! The people I’ve met in the past year have been wonderful! I’m going to miss you all so much!! Until we meet again… CHEERS!! 🙂

I didn’t notice this until after I posted, but February 20th, 2013 (the day I posted this) is exactly 1 year after I landed in Korea!

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Scootin’ Around Ho Chi Minh!!

After we arrived at the train station in Ho Chi Minh, we got a few things organized and freshened up a little bit. We then had to figure out a way to get to the Sinh Tourist office for our morning tour! The people at the tourist information office weren’t that helpful, but there was a Vietnamese man that overheard me and came to help me out. He spoke English fantastically. Right before he had to run off and catch his train, he was telling me that we could hire guys on scooters.

It seemed that if you see a guy sitting on a scooter not doing anything, you could walk up and ask for a ride and how much it’ll cost. There were signs or anything to tell us this is a business or organization of any kind, but we tried it anyways. We walked up to a few guys on scooters and showed them the address we needed to go, discussed prices, and were off! Scooters are a way of life around here… They’re EVERYWHERE!! And they weave in and out of traffic with such ease, and I don’t think I saw any accidents! Amazing. It’s like a school of fish… All going in the same general direction, but no organization to it and everyone takes their own route. It was pretty fun!

*Scooter photos are compliments of Miss Karima Walker!

Just scootin' along!

Just scootin’ along!

Red light... Photo Opp!!

Red light… Photo Opp!!

Cu Chi Tunnels

After we got to the Sinh Tourist office, we waited around for a little bit before getting on a bus to go visit the Cu Chi Tunnels from the Vietnam War. It’s absolutely crazy to think about how the Cu Chi people lived during this time. The entire village worked together to build these tunnels and they lived down there, I do believe, throughout the entire time they were fighting the American troops. The would only come out at night, or sometimes during the day under tents so they could not be seen from the air. Food, water, and air were very scarce in the tunnels. They would come above ground at night to tend to their crops, among other things, but after the Americans destroyed their land, finding food was even more difficult. At times when air was really scarce, everyone in the tunnel would have to lay face down on the tunnel floors. This helped slow their breathing and help conserve air. And being in this small place for so long, sickness spread really fast, and most of the people were sick or diseased with something most of the time. Karima and I watched this documentary before we came… Pretty amazing! http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-cu-chi-tunnels/

One of the tiny entrances to the tunnels!

One of the tiny entrances to the tunnels!

Air vents disguised as a termite mound!

Air vents disguised as a termite mound!

Another entrance!

Another entrance! And of course, these were much more hidden during the war.

The guerrillas built lots of well-hidden traps to catch American troops in.

One of the traps.

One of the traps.

Folding Chair Trap

Folding Chair Trap

See Saw Trap

See Saw Trap

There were also many different rooms built in the connected tunnels: living areas, storage facilities, weapon factories, field hospitals, command centers, and kitchens. We were able to walk through part of the tunnels. The tunnels were so small! And this is after they were made bigger to allow tourists to walk through. I can’t imagine how much smaller they were and thinking about having to live down there… No thank you! We walked through 20 meters of the tunnels. We could’ve walked 40 meters, but the people in front of us were walking sooooo slow and making all these really strange noises, like they were freaking out from claustrophobia or something. I’m fine with small spaces as long as I’m not stuck, and walking behind these people gave me that feeling from walking so slow. Karima and I didn’t feel very comfortable, so we just got out at the halfway point.

Heading down!

Heading down! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

A lovely view through the tunnels...

A lovely view through the tunnels…

War Remnants Museum

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After we got back to the Sinh Tourist office, we started walking towards the War Remnants Museum. It was probably about a 30-minute walk, but it seemed longer with the heat and our heavy backpacks! Thankfully the woman at the ticket booth let us store them in the office while we walked through the museum.

The museum was a little intense. There are pictures and facts everywhere. It wasn’t the type of museum that pointed fingers saying this side is horrible and it’s their fault, it just laid out the facts as they are, not choosing sides, but it definitely was not a place where I wanted to admit I was an American. It’s so unbelievable to see what people went through in this war.

There was a special display for Children of the War.

The straw hat the children always wore and the books they read.

The straw hat the children always wore and the books they read.

Their pictures.

Their pictures.

I’ve never been in a war and cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like or what it does to your way of thinking, but I think it’s absolutely horrible what some American soldiers (some, not all!) did to women, children, and the elderly. Some of the stories and pictures made me feel so ashamed to be American. Not to mention, Agent Orange. I honestly didn’t know much about it before I came to this museum, but wow. Seeing the pictures of people that were affected by it and of babies that are being born today that are still affected by it. It’s so sad and depressing. Majority of these people were civilians.

Pictures and stories of the war.

Pictures and stories of the war.

After the museum, we walked around looking for some pho! (Pho is a flat noodle soup and a traditional Vietnamese dish.) I had mine with beef… Yum!

Taken by my lovely photographer, Karima!

Taken by my lovely photographer, Karima!

When we were finished, we walked around to find a way to the airport. We found some guys on scooters. After we agreed on a price, we were off! Karima’s driver was probably in his 40’s and mine barely looked like was out of high school. I was a little nervous about this, and rightfully so! Almost got into a couple collisions within the first 5 minutes! Eeeek! (Don’t worry, Mom. I was fine and I had traveler’s insurance.) It was better after a while when the traffic wasn’t so congested and it was a nice little night ride. I was very happy to finally get to the airport though! Once we got off, Karima’s driver (who seemed to be in charge) changed the price on us and wanted double what we had agreed upon. Him and Karima were going back and forth for a little bit and she kept explaining that he said the cheaper price. He eventually gave up, but was pretty disappointed. Sorry guy, but thanks Karima!! I wouldn’t have had enough dong to cover it.

Walking towards the international terminal, I tripped on a little stump or something sticking out of the ground. I normally would’ve been able to catch myself, but when you have a huge backpack on that is probably pushing 35 pounds (that’s probably not accurate, but it was heavy!!) it’s much more difficult. So I hit the ground HARD! It hurt, but thankfully there were no cuts, just some bruises, a jammed big toe, and a jammed middle finger.

We flew to Singapore and had an 8-hour layover there. We stopped in the bathroom to clean up a little bit. (It had been a few days since we showered, and being on the train didn’t help.) My throat was starting to really bother me and my voice is starting to go. We found some comfy chairs to sleep in for the night and then I took some advice from Mama Karima to help my sore throat… Lots of water, some NyQuil, some good salty fries from Burger King, and wear a scarf while I sleep. (I think it helped a little, but I did lose my voice for the whole time we were in Phi Phi, Thailand.)

In the middle of the night, some security guards came to check our tickets and passports. I guess they tried to wake me up first to no avail. They told Karima to help wake me up, but I suddenly came out of sleep suddenly on my own. About 2 seconds after they left, I was passed right out again.

Vietnam, it’s been real! Peace!

Embracing the Vietnamese culture! :)

Embracing the Vietnamese culture! 🙂

Reunification Express in Vietnam!!

We decided that since we’re only spending a short time in Vietnam, a good way to “see” the Vietnam countryside is to take the Reunification Express from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh! The only trains I have ever taken in my life were from the suburbs of Chicago to the inner city, zoos, and theme parks… So this was going to be quite the experience! Not to mention how long it would take.

Photo Credit to Karima Walker

Photo Credit to Karima Walker

We knew we’d be sleeping on the train for two nights, but Karima and I decided to go the cheap route and get the soft seats instead of the sleeper cars. Some probably think we were crazy (and we might have been), but it really wasn’t that bad. We figured we’d be able to sleep better in soft seats than on a bed made of plywood and a sheet. (And we didn’t want to chance getting stuck in a little room with 2 creepy Vietnamese men.) There was no one sitting across from us the first night, so we were able to stretch out our feet on the opposite seats. The only reason I kept waking up every 2 hours was because my feet kept falling asleep. Karima slept pretty sound it seemed. I also slept with my purse on my lap under the blanket with me… Every now and then it would feel like Roxy was sitting on my lap like she always did. That feeling was so comforting and also just knowing that she was there in spirit with me. 🙂

3rd Class, Baby!! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

3rd Class, Baby!! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

Another great thing about taking the soft seat tickets (basically third class) is that you get kind of mingle with the common folk. Our first morning on the train, some women got on with 3 little Vietnamese rugrats. They sat across the aisle from us. They were full of energy and were very curious about us. Haha. I noticed that the youngest one definitely wasn’t wearing a diaper (and from the looks of it, the two younger ones looked to be the age most kids are still in diapers). Karima told me that in some cultures, the parents can tell when their kids need to go to the bathroom and just take them. Pretty neat I thought! Later in the day after they got off, there was popcorn scattered everywhere on the floor in their wake.

Best photo I could sneak of them... It doesn't do their cuteness justice though.

Best photo I could sneak of them… It doesn’t do their cuteness justice though.

The landscape is really beautiful! A patchwork of fields dotted with farmers in their little conical hats, sometimes working with Brahman cattle! (Brahman cattle are those cows with a big hump on their back.) We also passed by some rivers with some traditional boats- no motors, just paddles. Then we saw some mountains in the fog off in the distance. It was really grey and cloudy in the northern part of the country the first half of the trip. Later on as we traveled south, we saw clear, blue skies and the sun was out! Going along the coast was really beautiful! We went through some tunnels. Towards the end of the tunnels, you could faintly see the walls and they weren’t built up with bricks like I expected. It looked like they were blasted out and that was that.

Out in the fields!

Out in the fields!

A long day coming to an end!

A long day coming to an end!

Beautiful coastline! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

Beautiful coastline! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

Choo-choo!! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

Choo-choo!! (Photo Credit to Karima Walker)

During our whole journey, some women and men would come through selling snacks, fruit, and coffee. Around meal times, they came through with hot meals to purchase. You get a little Styrofoam container full of food… Lots of dry rice, cooked cabbage, chicken, and some really ocean-y soup. Besides the soup, the meal was pretty decent, but way too much rice!

Later on, there was a teenage boy that sat across from us. He offered to share some corn nuts with me. I thought they were peanuts, so I passed. (I’m still not a peanut person, but I’ve found out I like pistachios a couple months ago!) He was really curious about the line drawing we were doing. (A line drawing is quite fun! You have 2 or more people making a drawing and you each take turns drawing a line on the paper. Your line can be anything you want it to be, just as long as your pen doesn’t leave the page. You keep taking turns until you decide that it’s finished.) He was also flipping through the book I was reading (Three Cups of Tea… A good read!) He seemed like a sweetie. 🙂

Here he is, snoozing away!

Here he is, snoozing away!

Going to the bathroom on the train is interesting… The seats were ALWAYS covered with water. (I’m just going to assume it’s water, because if Vietnamese men have that bad of aim… I don’t even know.) I had wipes and tissues with me, so I had to clean a few seats before sitting down. (Good thing I had those with me, otherwise going to the bathroom would not have been fun at all… Not that it was “fun,” but you know what I mean.) In this situation, I would have preferred a squat toilet much more than the western toilets they had. And the floor were always covered with water (?), so it was always just a good idea to hold up your pants so they don’t drag on the floor at all. Ew!

Our second night on the train, I woke up in the middle of the night seeing all of these fields of some kind of palm trees. In between the rows of palm trees were rows of lights, completely lighting up the fields. Very strange!

The best picture I could get of the palm tree fields at night!

The best picture I could get of the palm tree fields at night!

We departed Hanoi at 11 pm January 13th and arrived in Ho Chi Minh at 6 am on January 15th! 31 hours in total!!

For your entertainment, here’s a video I made of our long journey!! It took a long time to make this, but I’m very proud of it and hope you enjoy!!

Hello Hanoi!!

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Saturday morning, we woke up early to make it up to Jeju City to catch our plane to Seoul. We spent a few hours in Seoul before we had to get our plane to Hanoi! One of the comforting things about Incheon Airport in Seoul is McDonald’s! Haha it’s always nice to stop in on my way through for a greasy quarter pound cheese burger, salty fries, and a smooth vanilla shake! Hits the spot every time! I also made another little (well, not that little) splurge… We stopped in at Duty Free Shopping (something I NEVER do!) and I fell in love with some Ray Ban glasses. I wasn’t going to get them and walked away… 10 minutes later I was back and swiping my card! First Duty Free purchase EVER!! I also got a $30 discount for being a Korean resident! BAM!! Though I do recall telling one of my friends one time that I would never even think about paying more than $30 for a pair of sunglasses… Woops!

BAM!

BAM!

While Karima and I were sitting at our gate, she was emailing a friend that we’ll be staying with in Seoul after our trip and she said to me…
K: Ok, I’m going to proofread this now.
B: Does this mean I can’t talk to you?
K: Well you can, but it’ll be more like talking at me, so you won’t get much of a response.
B: Ok.
3o seconds later…
B: Karima, I’m a lesbian.
K: Hahahahahahahahahaha!!!!
I got a pretty good response our of that! 🙂

Karima embracing her inner model... Or sleeping. Take your pick.

Karima embracing her inner model… Or sleeping. Take your pick.

Then we were off! I got to sit next to this little Korean bundle of cuteness for the first flight!! He snoozed most of the way. When he was awake, he was really curious about me and I kept wanting to admire how adorable he was. We were both doing that “Oh! She/He saw me! Look away!” Haha. We had a 5 hour layover in Gwangzhou, China. Nothing too exciting, but we were seeing lots of foreigners and hearing random English conversations. Kind of strange after being in Jeju for so long.

Korean Bundle of Cuteness!

Korean Bundle of Cuteness!

After we landed in Hanoi, we walked over to the visa counter and then out to find our driver to bring us to our hostel. It was about midnight by the time we got there, so we just snuggled up and snoozed as soon as our heads hit the pillow!

Sunday morning after breakfast, we got picked up for our trip to Hua Lu and Tam Coc. I think our tour guide said his name was Chen, but he preferred to be called “Top Ten.” Funny little Vietnamese man! Along with us for the tour, there was a French couple and 4 Vietnamese tourists. It was a 2 1/2 hour drive from Hanoi to get there, so we got to see a little bit of everyday life on the way… Scooters EVERYWHERE!! And just like in Korea, no rules of the road, besides size matters. Bigger vehicles get the right away, but little vehicles can go anywhere they can squeeze. We also noticed a lot of the buildings were really narrow and long, like the houses you see on the opening credits of Full House. (If you haven’t seen Full House, you haven’t lived.) Top Ten said people build long, narrow buildings because tax is based off of how wide the house is and the length is not a factor.

Hua Lu

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Hua Lu is the ancient capital of Dai Co Viet. When we were almost to the temples we were going to visit in Hua Lu, we could see lots of little mountains that just seemed to pop out of nowhere! The ground around them was completely flat, and then all of a sudden, you’d have a mountain. We walked by a house that you could only get to by pulling yourself along a rope in a little wooden boat.

Come on over!

Come on over!

 

Off to see the temples!

Off to see the temples!

The temples were pretty small, but very beautiful inside. We also visited the old “palace.” It was basically a big shed with an area lowered and fenced off in the center to put water in for a little pond. (I assume that’s what it was for anyways.)

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Burning incense for prayers.

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Top Ten telling Karima about the temple!

We also saw little goats running around and little old women walking around, calling us “madam,” and begging us to buy something.

Baaaaaa.

Baaaaaa.

 

 

Love her sweatshirt.. CHALLENGE!

Love her sweatshirt.. CHALLENGE!

Tam Coc

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Tam Coc means “three caves.” We went on a row boat down the Ngo Dong River with a man and a women rowing us along. (The man was maneuvering the oars with his feet!)

Tam Coc has many similar features as Ha Long Bay, so I’ve been told. (I’ll have to check out Ha Long Bay next time!) The trip was beautiful! The rock formations were massive and quite gorgeous!

About to hop in!

About to hop in!

 

Reminds me of a pyramid... You can kind of see how it looks like blocks stacked on each other.

Reminds me of a pyramid… You can kind of see how it looks like blocks stacked on each other.

 

The water used to be much higher here!

The water used to be much higher here!

 

 

Not too bad of a view...

Not too bad of a view…

 

... Not bad at all!

… Not bad at all!

We went through the three caves, which was cool! I touched the ceiling as we were going through, expecting it to be really rough, but surprisingly, it was rather smooth. I’m guessing from the water running through there when the water level was higher.

Going into our first cave!

Going into our first cave!

 

Love these pictures!

Love these pictures!

 

Heading into another cave!

Heading into another cave!

 

So awesome!

So awesome!

 

Heading out!

Heading out!

After we got to the end and turned around to head back, there were ladies in boats trying to sell us snacks and drinks. When we said ‘no,’ they tried to guilt us into buying something for our rowers. No thanks. (We gave our rowers a nice tip at the end, so don’t think we were being cheap!) The lady rower in our boat was showing us some pictures of her family making some embroidered sheets and pictures and then tried selling us some of the sheets, pouches, bags, pictures, etc. her family made. We declined, but after that I wondered if the pictures were really of her family or if she just carried them around to help convince people to buy them.

People getting hounded by the ladies in their boats...

People getting hounded by the ladies in their boats…

While on the river, there were photographers EVERYWHERE trying to take our picture. Karima and I always turned away, and good thing we did! Once we were back on shore, there were women everywhere trying to get people to buy the beautiful pictures that were taken of them on the river, and they were VERY pushy about it. People were getting really frustrated and annoyed with these women. Karima and I just looked at each other and smiled. We avoided this whole fiasco by not letting any of the photographers get any snapshots of us and were not approached by any of these women. Good thinking!!

I got my own photographer... Miss Karima!

I got my own photographer… Miss Karima!

After we got back to the hostel, we picked up our train tickets for that night and then headed out for a little bit. We were trying to find a restaurant that served pho (noodle soup) to soothe our sore throats but no luck. We found a restaurant on the sidewalk and had fried noodles with beef and greens and rice with veggies and beef! Delicious!! While we were sitting there, we heard someone yell, “Hey! They’re from Jeju!” Huh?! We turned to see a girl named Kristin that we know from Jeju. Who ever said this was a big world? After dinner, we walked through the night market and in some stores for some souvenirs! We also bought some of the meat and veggie sandwiches, banh mi (a popular Vietnamese street food), for the train ride.

Dinner time!

Dinner time!

Once we got back to the hostel, we told the travel desk we needed a taxi to the train station. We had assumed he would tell the taxi service where we needed to go, so we were quite confused when we got in the car and the driver had no idea where we were wanting to go. He didn’t understand “train” or Karima’s gesture and “chugga-chugga” sounds. Then I showed him our train tickets… Still nothing! Finally Karima said, “choo-choo!” “Ahhhh, okay!” he said. Haha.

We departed Hanoi on the Reunification Express heading to Ho Chi Minh at 11:00 pm!

Vietnam Dong... Chaaaaa Ching!!

Vietnam Dong… Chaaaaa Ching!!