A spinoff in proper "Rhoda" style of my patented e-mail blastograms, this blog was created with the intention of keeping friends and family updated on and amused by my life.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Having just rolled out of a four-hour cooking class here in Udaipur appropriately sated, I now have the energy to go for the much promised (and overdue) post.

One of the things that Chesa noticed as we started getting deeper into Rajasthan, was that the further we got from the so-called “Golden Triangle” (the standard tourist route of Delhi, Agra (where the Taj Mahal is), and Jaipur), the touts seemed to get less pushy. I don’t know if I can really agree with that, but I have been enjoying myself more the further we get from the area. Maybe it’s because the tonsillitis has gone away for the time being. :o)

But also, I just think that the experiences have been better. I have already raved about Jaisalmer, but left just before my camel excursion. After a day exploring the city, and after having our car fall in a hole (yes, we had to be pushed out, and the car has made a weird clanking sound ever since), we headed out into the Thar Desert. We arrived at a small “resort” in a small village just as the other tourists were headed out on their camels. We had hardly a chance to stretch our legs from the 50km car ride before mounting our camels. I think that I ultimately preferred my camel excursion in the Moroccan Sahara better, but this one was still fun.

The desert where we were was mostly flat, and full of scrubs. India being India, the diversity of wildlife didn’t fail to impress. Right from the outset, we saw peacocks (don’t know what they were doing out there), and later came across some deer and antelope, and many other birds. We did make it to some smallish dunes by sunset, and enjoyed watching the sun go down over Pakistan. The camel then returned us to our “resort” for dinner. There were traditional Rajashtani musicians, and the drivers (ours included) started dancing. It was okay, but the evening seemed a little forced.

Luckily, Chesa insisted on a night in the desert proper. They packed a camel cart full of blankets, and we set off with a lovely Swiss couple into the desert at about ten at night with a drunk guide to boot. We made a little fire, and the Swiss collected shrubbery while we broke it down to feed it to the fire. We stayed up chatting with our “guide” who seemed to only know, “everything ok?,” to which the Suisse would reply, “Pa-fect!” with a slightly British intonation. We then spread out our bedding, and crawled into the remarkably small sleeping bags. I fit, but just barely, the bag pushing at my shoulders.

It was all worth it though. Despite the cold, and wearing basically all of my clothes, and being crunched in a sleeping bag, and getting sand down my pants, the stars were beautiful. In China seeing stars is frankly a gift, and seeing so many that evening was amazing. I could really see a depth in the heavens that I hadn’t noticed before—or at least that I couldn’t see before! Upon reflection, I realized that it was the first time I had slept out completely under the stars. Don’t get me wrong, I have gone camping many a time, but I always had slept in a tent. Yay for new experiences!

From the desert, it was on to Ranakpur. When we arrived in the verdant valley surrounded by mountains I felt at home. It was so peaceful there, and the hotel we stayed in was quite delightful. We had our own balcony, and all you could hear were the birds. Unfortunately, it was a little too much like home, as I succumbed to an allergic reaction and was stuffed up for the rest of the evening. Boo pollen!

The reason for the stop in Ranakpur was the largest Jain temple in India. Supported by 1,044 pillars, the unique architecture was so intricate and impressive that I was truly awed. But before we made it there, we took a jaunt across the road from our hotel to a nearby lake. An ornithologist’s wet dream, the lake was filled with ducks, cormorants, herons, egrets, and I many other birds. I was delighted to see a grey heron, as the stately bird is one of my favorite, but mostly I just enjoyed being in the countryside away from the hectic daily life that seems to permeate Indian (not to mention Chinese) cities.

But then it was time to go to Udaipur, where we still are. We did see Octopussy last night, and so we enjoyed the day seeing things like the Floating Palace (Octopussy’s abode in the film), and going through the City Palace Museum (which was frankly a bit lackluster to say the least). We also had a wonderful cooking lesson in the evening, and now I can do basic Indian food, so hopefully I can treat some of my trusted readers to a feast at some point.

Meanwhile, we’re off to Mumbai tomorrow in what should be an epic journey—almost 24 hours of train. Meh. Luckily I have come prepared with an epic journey of my own—The Ramayana (one of the fundamental Hindu texts, the story of Rama, an avatar of Vishnu). Hopefully I can make it through!

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Happy New Year from Udaipur!


This will have to be a quick post, as Chesa and I have an appointment in half an hour to see Octopussy, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to wish all you Chinese folk a very happy new year! I know I've missed it for a second year in a row being in India, but Chesa and I did our best to celebrate anyway: we ate a "spring roll," some sweet and sour vegetables, and "chili chicken." It was generally ok, but Chinese food outside of China doesn't hold a torch.

As for those of you wondering why we're going to go see Octopussy, it's because we're now in Udaipur. There is apparently a scene filmed at the Lake Palace here in the infamous Bond movie, so, since I haven't seen it yet, what better time? It's not exactly like watching "The Killing Fields" in Siem Riep, but it passes the night, ay?

Tomorrow when we've got more time, I'll be sure to update everyone on our camel adventure and sleeping under the stars in the Thar (not Thal, I stand corrected. Also note that the 'h' only indicates aspiration in Hindi, so it's pronounced 't-ha-r' and is not a 'th' sound.) Desert. Good times!

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Riding Thal

First, a rundown of events since last I have posted. :o)

Chesa and I have made it to our westernmost destination here in India: Jaisalmer. Situated on the edge of the Thal desert a mere 100 kilometers from the Pakistani border, I’ve fallen in love. As Chesa likes to keep pointing out, each of the cities we visit in Rajasthan is distinguished by its own special color. Jaipur is known as the pink city as one of the local Maharaja ordered the entire old city be painted that rusty hue to welcome the future (at the time) King Edward. Jodhpur (where we were yesterday) is the blue city as many of the houses are painted blue, a color originally reserved for the Brahmin (one of the higher castes) of which the capital of the Rajput kingdom had a plethora. Jaisalmer though, is known as the city of gold. We discovered the reason first hand this evening while touring the fort: at sunset, the color of the sand and stone all the buildings are made of shines a brilliant gold. It was exquisite.

I’m not exactly sure what it is about this city that I like so much, but it is truly the first one in India that I wouldn’t hesitate to stay in longer. I think part of it is the fact that it’s smaller than some of the places we’ve been, but also that the old part of town is still mostly pedestrian and quite quaint. We also discovered an excellent Italian restaurant for dinner with real tiramisu, so that might also have something to do with it. :o) Tomorrow we head out for a short camel excursion in the desert, something to which I have been looking forward for quite a while.

As for Jodhpur, where we were yesterday, the most impressive part was the fort. As I mentioned before, Jodhpur was the capital of the Rajput kingdom, and so the fort on a mesa overlooking the rest of the town is as ornate as it is solid. It dominates the town. I also quite enjoyed the tour, as it was the first place that actually had an audio tour guide—we even got to hear audio clips from the Maharaja himself. Now, since I know that most of you are avid polo fans, you won’t be surprised to hear that, indeed, jodhpur did originate in this town, as the former Maharaja was an avid polo enthusiast. For those of you have never seen polo in your life (which I hadn’t until last year in Manila), jodhpur are riding pants.

The story I found interesting is that the former Maharaja built a new palace (where his current highness continues to reside) as a drought relief program of Rooseveltian proportion. He employed over 15,000 workers in its building. But that’s an aside. The interesting story is that while touring said palace, we noted that he quite enjoyed planes, as they displayed a model collection of his actual one. Jodjpur actually even had the first international airport in India because of him. The thing we didn’t find out until on the audio tour at the fort, several kilometers away, is that his life was tragically cut short in a plane accident…guess they forgot to mention that!

Other than that, I didn’t find Jodhpur all that exciting. It was obvious that the city had a bit more money than some of the other cities we’ve been in, and the architecture was distinctly influenced by the Europeans, but it lacked a soul nevertheless.

And jumping back to Pushkar, there are a couple of stories I forgot to mention. First is related to the animals: about 3km outside of town, we followed the curve of a road right into the oncoming stampede of oxen. We were able to brake almost immediately, and the animals maneuvered around us, but it was still quite intimidating. I’m telling you, the animals in India freak me out in size and ubiquity!

Also, I mentioned that Pushkar was a holy city. What I failed to mention, however, was that it was so holy that the entire city is strictly vegetarian. Actually, I’ve been eating almost entirely veg (with the exception of mutton on two occasions) since my arrival in India, so I didn’t mind. I just found it interesting that an entire city could be veg. The other thing that happened there that assured us it was indeed a holy city happened at 3:45AM each morning.

The first night there, I awoke from strange dreams to the heavy thud of a drum. Not knowing what was happening, and still heavy with slumber, I could only assume the world was ending. After a minute of pounding though, bells chimed in and I was assuaged. The bells continued for almost five minutes, and were joined by a trumpet calling in the night. Chants of ‘om’ could be heard floating through the air. While the interruption in sleep was annoying at first, I couldn’t help but feel moved. I think it was the ‘om’ that did it for me. Chesa had explained earlier that it is believed to be the sound of the universe, and that night, hearing distant chants carried on the wind, it seemed like nothing less.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

One Week Down (almost)

Well, we have not quite made it one week in India, but already we are starting to get accustomed to it. We currently find ourselves in the backpacker (read hippie) haven of Rajasthan: Pushkar. It reminds me very much of Dali in Yunnan in that sense, but Dali has a nicer old town. On the other hand, it’s a bit holier, as this is the place where Brahma (one of the four main Hindu gods) was said to have dropped a lotus, creating a holy lake. He later went here for some important ceremony, but his wife, Saraswati failed to attend. In revenge he married another woman. To get back at him, Saraswati swore that he would never be worshipped anywhere but here, and so one of the only temples dedicated to Brahma is located here in Pushkar.

In any case it has been nice today to relax a bit and reflect upon our experiences so far instead of being ferried from one tourist spot to the next!

Where to start? Perhaps the tourist Mecca of the Taj Mahal. We went there three days ago, and I can’t really stop thinking about it. I know that the building gets a lot of press in the world, and so I thought that it couldn’t possibly live up to all the hype, but it really did. It captured my gaze from the rooftop of our hotel in Agra, and it held my attention until our departure. It’s not as big as I was imagining, but the building itself is just splendid, the sleek curves and the shining marble and mother of pearl entrancing!

The city of Agra, on the other hand, is nothing to write home about. I had expressed concern back in Delhi to some Indian friends of Chesa’s family that Agra would just be a tourist hole. It pretty much was, but who can blame them? In order to stop the erosion of the white marble of the Taj, the Indian government banned industry in the area. What other option do the locals have then to join the tourist bandwagon?

After a morning of sight-seeing, both Chesa and I were happy to head off to Jaipur. Upon arrival in the town, I felt more comfortable at once. Here we saw the aforementioned doctors, but also participated in events held during a local heritage festival. Probably the best part of our time there was meeting up with a Kiwi friend, Bethani, who was studying in Kunming for a bit last semester. She was performing a Maori (indigenous New Zealanders) fire dance while another couple of friends did Rajasthani dancing. It was quite a spectacle, and I just love those small world moments where paths cross in the strangest of places! It reminds me of the universe’s inherent connectedness, and for that, I am appreciative.

As for basic impressions so far: the animals in India amaze me. At one point we were on the road in Jaipur and saw a man riding a horse on one side of street, while an ox was pulling a cart on the other, followed by a camel! All we were missing was an elephant to round out the work animals here! Streets are also filled with goats and boars, and buildings with flocks of birds. Chesa seems to think there was a Maoist campaign to rid Chinese cities of the pestering birds, which I can neither confirm nor deny, but the lack of birds in Chinese cities is quite shocking when compared to their domination here in India!

And as for cultural experiences, our dinner last night here in Pushkar would have to top the list. We sat down for dinner at a little restaurant a bit outside the normal tourist strip. After we sat down, a cow moseyed over to gawk. We gawked back, and even took pictures, not being used to eating in the presence of cows. As we were snapping the photos, a group of what turned out to be farmers from Hariyana (a nearby state) turned to gawking. They eventually got bold, and even sat down with us. We chatted and had a lively conversation for over an hour. The group continued to grow, as there were 40 or so farmers travelling with the Forestry Department to learn new methods of farming here in Rajasthan, and we became the evening’s entertainment. It was fun, though their English was, not surprisingly, stilted, and the restaurant manager didn’t seem to like the crowd. The farmers were clearly more interested in Chesa (I wonder why), and I was worried that I was going to have to deal with that, but when we decided to go, there was no brouhaha.

My favorite quote from the evening came when I was explaining the term half-sister (a term I’ve had to explain to the Chinese just as often). When I said I had one, the man with the best English said: “You mean she’s lame?”

“No, no,” I insisted, and I gave a chortle.

“You mean she’s small?”

Again, “No,” and I smiled and delved into as simple an explanation I could. I think they got it in the end.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006


Well, I think that Chesa and I were mistakenly married (or at least treated as a married couple, but saying we were mistakenly married makes the story sound more interesting) yesterday in a small temple of Krishna’s older brother in one of the seven holy cities in India—Mathura. Upon entering the temple we were instructed to sit down before a deity of sorts, hold a flag together, offer some prayer in Hindi (I was repeating after the priest, hope I didn’t say anything offensive), and were painted with red dots. My understanding is that the red dots are usually reserved for married women...

In any case, it seems fitting. From day one, Chesa and I have taken the his/hers approach to this trip. I ran down from my apartment running a little late (we’re surprised) to head off to the airport in Kunming wearing a black shirt, a blue jacket, with a blue backpack, and with a “messenger bag.” Chesa was the same except in red. Coincidence, you’d think, but then we keep on matching it seems.

It came to a head today when we had matching his/hers doctors visits. Last night in Agra (the city of the Taj Mahal) Chesa and I stopped for sweets after dinner. She got milk-based sweets, I got some other spicier sweets. She woke up in the middle of the night vomiting and with bowels arunning. We were a bit skeptical of medical treatment in Agra, as a scheme was (is?) prominent whereby restaurants intentionally give food poisoning to clients in order to send them to doctors who in turn charge exorbitant prices to their insurance agencies. Chesa, thus, sucked it up and went out for a tour of the Taj this morning (managed not to puke on the actual thing, though did do it right outside) because, hey, it’s not every morning you have one of the seven wonders of the world right in your backyard! And really, that building was just inspiring enough to make the vomit stay down.

After a few more bouts, including a nasty one on the way to Jaipur (the capital of Rajhistan where we are now) leaning out of the car window and having it splatter back in her hair, we decided a trip to the doctor was necessary. I, although not suffering from food poisoning, was starting to get an ear ache. I was sick for the last week and a half I was in Kunming, fighting with a nasty bug my friend had kindly imported from the US for me. My lymph nodes were totally swollen, but after a round of antibiotics, I seemed in good enough condition to fly. But now, I’m swelling back up, and it’s headed in the direction of my ears. Not wanting an ear infection, we decided we’d make a trip to the doctor together.

Let me tell you, everything that you’ve heard about Indian healthcare is true. It’s cheap and above par. No IVs for me, so take that all you stuck in Chinese hospitals! A quick check revealed that I indeed have tonsillitis, and am now on round two of antibiotics, stronger than the first. Hopefully this will go away, and Chesa’s new medicine will get her back on track, and we’ll get to enjoying this beautiful place!

And now, since I’m long overdue for something like this, India by the numbers:

4- Number of times I was offered drugs in the seedy area of Delhi (NOTE: this seemed surprisingly low)

7- Number of times Chesa threw up today (maybe eight as I’ve been at the Internet Café for a while now).

3.94- The level (in PPM) of sulfur dioxide in the air around the Taj Mahal today.

14- The number of children that Mumtaz Mahal, the Persian queen for whom the Taj was built as a mausoleum, had. (NOTE: She died while having the fourteenth)

3- The number of weddings going on within view of our hotel this evening.

60- The cost (in Rupees, equivalent to about US$1.50) of my visit to the doctor (take that all you stuck in American hospitals!) this evening.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Doing Delhi

Well, I’ve finally made it. After an indulgent couple of days in Hong Kong, we (my friend Chesa and I) have arrived in Delhi, India.

Last time I was in Hong Kong, I was unimpressed. I had been living in Taibei for the summer, and Hong Kong only seemed to offer less. There was less space, less integration with Japanese culture, less language I could understand (well, with the exception of all the English). But this time I was in awe. This time it was more, more, more! I had come to the realization the other month that I had not left Kunming or its environs since I arrived in late August. I hadn’t even been out in the countryside until just a few weeks ago. And so, coming from a familiar Kunming with its RELATIVELY sparse amenities (ok, so we still have a Pizza Hut and a McDonalds or two) to abundant Hong Kong was liberating. I sat in Starbucks reading the International Herald Tribune (my God, a REAL newspaper!). I nibbled on a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream cone as I raced down to the MRT to be shuttled off the island and over to Kowloon. I went to an art museum full of contemporary art. I went to conveyor-belt sushi!

Unfortunately, the respite built my hopes of for India. I’m afraid my overly simplistic logic went something like: Hong Kong belonged to the British, India belonged to the British, so same same but different. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I’ve only been here for nine hours, so I can’t say I have really had a chance to make solid inquiries yet, but I do have first impressions. From what I can tell, Delhi is roughly on par with Kunming in terms of development—I was taken aback. I was expecting Beijing, Delhi being the capital and all, but I got Kunming. But that’s only in terms of development. I didn’t think that it was possible to get crazier than China in terms of crowds, and yet the Indians seem to have managed it. I’m used to having a personal bubble of roughly 5 cm in China…I think the Indians give about 2 cm at best! We shall see though, perhaps I will get accustomed quickly.

I’m frankly already looking forward to getting out of Delhi (sometimes you just have vibes), but we still have some exploring to do. But first, we must recover from the ever-so-minor jet lag!

I’ll probably mention this again later, but for those of you interested in what will likely be a more detailed account of our travels here in India, I highly recommend checking out Chesa’s blog!

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Friday, January 06, 2006

A Year in Review

I honestly can’t remember the last time I wrote a New Year’s letter to everybody—in fact, it’s quite possible that I have never done so before. And yet, this year I feel strangely compelled. Perhaps it’s the peer pressure (I’ve gotten over five such letters in the last week), or perhaps it’s just because I’ve had that interesting of a year. Whatever the reasoning behind it, I hope you enjoy! Also, please note that I have linked to relevant blog entries if you feel so inclined as to find out more about a particular topic.

This year started rather quietly for me, celebrating New Year’s with a few close friends at my former Chinese teacher’s house here in Kunming. They have an amazing flat, and it was enjoyable to pamper myself just a little bit here. We then absconded with one of our, ummmm, older friends, and took her to one of the skuzziest ex-pat bars to be found in Kunming: The Speak Easy. She was appropriately scandalized, and it was decided that all in all, it was a good start to a new year.

After arguing with several Chinese service attendants at banks and other places, and after a sleep-deprived week to finish grading all my finals, I was off with two friends, Chesa and Marie-Liesse, to enjoy the splendors of SE Asia. In all, we visited five countries: Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines (where we narrowly escaped the Valentine’s Day bombings that blanketed the country that day). Though each of these countries has their own strong and weak points, I think that overall, Laos was my favorite country by far. It is just such a contrast to the rest of SE Asia! Whereas Kunming has a population of over five million if you include surrounding suburbs, the entire country of Laos has only a population of six million—it’s a difference one notices immediately upon entering the “backwater burg” of Vientiane (the capital).

After almost six weeks of travelling, it was back to good old Kunming for a new semester. It was almost too relaxing at some points, but I lumped enough on my plate in the end, that I seemed to never stop going.
First, I got a new dog named XiaoXiong (小熊), or Little Bear. He also has the Franglish name of Maurice, but hardly anybody calls him that. He’s a cute little Lhasa Apso in serious need of braces as his under-bite is quite pronounced. I think it makes him just that much cuter, but my friends seem to think that it makes him look evil. :o(

As if raising a puppy wasn’t enough, I took the HSK (the standardized Chinese Level Test), and failed brilliantly. It’s somewhat disconcerting to study a language for almost four years and still be considered of the elementary beginning level! In addition, I took the Foreign Service Written Exam, and again, failed brilliantly. Well, actually, I don’t know how well I did, but not good enough to enter the service.

My lovely mother, her boss, and her coworker also came through China for a three-week visit in May. We spent some lovely time along China’s eastern front, visiting such cities as Shanghai, Hangzhou (and its famous Western Lake), Suzhou, and the quaint canal village of Zhouzhuang. Then it was down to my neck of the woods to experience my everyday life here in Kunming as well as the normal tourist track of Dali, Lijiang (whose old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and Zhongdian (AKA Shangri-la). I think my mom had her eyes opened to a whole new part of the world, and so, besides having a good time seeing her, I also enjoyed introducing her to new things.

At the end of May, while sitting in one of my favorite restaurants in Kunming that serves XinJiang food, I decided to take advantage of my students’ labour week and head west—far west—to XinJiang, China’s hinterland. I travelled by myself, and had an absolutely amazing time. The scenery there is gorgeous, and upon arrival in Urumqi (the capital of Xinjiang), I felt right at home. Urumqi is situated on a arid plain right next to the TianShan mountain range, just like the Front Range of Colorado.
Upon my return home, I decided to stay in Kunming for another year, and re-upped at Yunnan University. It meant a mad rush to change apartments (XiaoXiong wasn’t exactly welcomed in the foreigner’s compound), but it was worth it. I quite enjoy my new apartment, as well as the new roommates!

Enter next traveler: Robin, my old housemate from Whitman and fellow Fort Collinsite. She arrived to break in the new apartment (we had fun figuring out the washing machine), and then it was off for a two week journey across China. We hit Dali, Lijiang, and Zhongdian, but then continued through the serious back country of Sichuan province, spending several days in LiTang, a Tibetan town located at a mere 15,000+ ft. I loved every minute of it, though not speaking Tibetan made it a bit difficult to communicate sometimes. From there it was down through Kangding and Chengdu, only to fly to Xi’an (for the Terracotta Soldiers of course) and finally to Beijing. She insisted on seeing the Great Wall, so we made an excursion.

Then it was time for some serious reverse-culture shock, as I headed back to the US for almost six weeks. I enjoyed thoroughly getting to see all of my friends and family back home, but the US remains a very crazy place (not that China isn’t). I stocked up on good wine, good food, good salad, avocados, good chocolate, good desserts, and a good ten pounds…luckily I have been able to take them off (and more) during this semester in Kunming.

I returned to my new apartment only to find the bustling road on which I presently live, Wenlin Jie demolished. They were redoing the sewer system and enlarging the road, but all it looked like to me was piles of mud dangerous crevices filled with raw sewage. Yummy! After about a month of construction, it was mostly finished, and I couldn’t have been happier! Like I always say though, if you’re not about to die in China, then you’re doing something wrong! (NOTE: I don’t advocate actual dieing.)

I have truly felt that coming back to Kunming was the right decision for this year, but I think I’ll be ready to continue my adventures elsewhere next year. I took on an aggressive teaching schedule—22 hours per week, plus three hours of tutoring, plus Chinese class. I nearly drove myself crazy—losing my voice at the end of almost each week. It made it hard for me to carry on my favorite past time, KTV (Karaoke TV), and so I have resolved not to do so next semester. My favorite class was probably American Culture and Society, where I got to discuss substantive issues for a change, and I feel like I really made an impact on some of these kids’ lives.

The holiday season this year was generally good, and I got my fill of sushi so I really can’t complain. This time around, a band of teachers here at Yunnan University as well as one of our other friends performed at a local, Scandinavian-run tea house/café/gallery called Nordica. They were simply amazing, and I’m constantly amazed at the caliber of talented people I find around me here. I was also asked to carry out a Swedish tradition of toasting all the girls in the room (a couple of girls also harassed, I mean toasted, the boys). It was fun to participate, but then it was home for an early night to finish my Personal Statement as my graduate school applications were due on the thirty-first. Thank goodness for a 13-plus-hour time difference!

And with that, we have made it to present more or less. For those of you my age (that is to say, born in 1982), this year should be especially auspicious. It is once again the Year of the Dog, and thus, I hope you are able to make the most of it! I will be travelling to India starting on January 18th to pass the Chinese New Year. So, I wish myself “一路顺风” (Safe journeys, literally, “one road with the wind”), and if you’re interested in keeping up-to-date on my boring life on the other side of the world, check out my blog at http://www.knezzy.com/FunFacts!

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