Saturday, June 18: This week’s Photo Challenge asks us to get inspired by the curves around us, from curves in architecture to bends in nature to man-made undulations. I had a fun time looking through my happy memories to find photos for this challenge.
Friday, May 13: I’m taking a trip down memory lane today for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Face. I loved the serene faces of Buddha seen all over Myanmar.
Of course, I carry close to my heart the characterful faces of the Omani people I met during my two years in Oman.
Monday, June 30: At the beginning of every year, I’m always hopeful and enthusiastic about the chance to change myself, to become a better person, a more caring person, a more successful person. I make goals for myself. I want to succeed, I really do. But I wonder if I can ever really change. Can I change my true nature or am I doomed to continue to fall back into my old habits, into the person I really am deep inside?
I resolved to be FOCUSED this year. Granted, the year isn’t over yet, but as of the halfway point, I’ll recap where I am. Not very focused, I admit.
One of the things I didn’t make a resolution about was my photography. However, I had some nice things happen with my photography this year. First, I joined the Vienna Photographic Society. This is a group of hobbyists, most of whom are excellent photographers. I was inspired to push myself to excel, but ultimately, I realize I don’t have the technical expertise to be in their league. I’m not even sure I want to have that much technical expertise. Neither do I have Photoshop, nor do I do much in the way of post-processing. I understand now that many professional photographers do extensive post-processing. Maybe one day I’ll get into this, but at this point I don’t have the drive to attain such a level of accomplishment.
Each month the club has novice and advanced intra-club competitions in general photography and in themed contests using trained and experienced local photographers as judges. I’m always in the novice category.
In my first competition, I won third place in the novice category for this picture.
In another competition, I won first place in the novice category for this picture “Our Soul is a Spray Can,” taken in Cascais, Portugal. At the end of the year, when the club gave awards to everyone who entered competitions during the year, I also won Honorable Mention for this picture.
In a PSA (Photographic Society of America) National competition for Nature, Round 2, I got 10 points for this picture of Acacia Trees in Lake Langano, Ethiopia. This meant it went on to the next round of judging, but I ultimately didn’t win anything.
One of the things I enjoyed doing was a 20-minute presentation to the club on Oman. I put together a slide show about Oman and told stories about my life there. I got a lot of compliments on this presentation and I loved doing it. 🙂
I also joined Instagram and have been posting a lot of my pictures on there. At one point I started tagging my photos #natgeotravelpics. This hashtag put my photos into National Geographic Travel magazine’s Instagram feed. One week, they featured this photo and it got well over 20,000 likes and I got a lot of new followers on Instagram. It was a lot of fun for a couple of days.
Finally, I entered a photo competition at the Vienna Community Center, which was open to the public. I won third prize in Architecture for this photo of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
It’s clear where I focused most of my energies! Below are the goals I set on January 1, 2014. As you can see, I seemed to FOCUS more on my photography than on the goals I actually set for myself. 🙂
1. Pitch a travel article to at least one publication every week, beginning after January 13.
This is one goal I haven’t taken any steps toward achieving. I started with an idea for the Washington Post Travel Section about a crazy trip I took from the chaotic spiritual city of Varanasi to the chill yoga capital of India, Rishikesh. The story, already written in my blog, was about 12,000 words. The Washington Post Travel Section seemed the perfect place for this story because they often publish personal experience stories. However, they do not take unsolicited pitches. You can send a full story and they’ll decide if they like it and are interested in buying it. But the word count on their stories must be from 1,500 to 2,500 words. Mine required a LOT of cutting. Besides, they generally don’t want to look at a story over a year old, and my story was from 2011. I thought they might consider a story if it was timeless, as mine was, so I worked on it for a while, cutting and cutting, until I got down to 5,000 words. Still way too long. Then I just abandoned it, slowly at first, as I continued to mull it over, and then all at once, as I dropped it altogether. That was the only article I even attempted to write.
Why am I so easily waylaid?
Probably because I’m not sure I really want to be a travel writer. I’m not interested in having to work on my holidays! I want to enjoy, soak up the culture and the sights. I want to enjoy the food and wine and the experience. Travel writing is a job. I’m not sure I want to make a job out of something I love doing for its own sake.
2. Finish revising my novel by the end of February. Spend March figuring out what steps to take to get it published and take those steps. Begin a new book after I get that process underway.
I didn’t quite make my February deadline. I did however finish my novel in May. Finally! A dear friend of mine read it and gave me some great feedback. I even came up with a title, The Scattering Dreams of Stars. So most of the work is done.
The next step is to send out query letters to agents. I wrote numerous drafts of a query letter and I posted a draft on a forum where fellow writers critique query letters. Mine got ripped to shreds. After many efforts to capture the essence of my story in a short two paragraphs, and to write a captivating hook, I let it sit. And sit. And sit some more. I have two friends who have offered to edit the letter, and I’ve made another attempt, but I’m still not happy with it.
I’ve decided it’s harder to write two paragraphs than to write a 350 page novel. Some people say they write the hook and the summarizing paragraph before they write their novel. Maybe I should have done that; it would have helped me to be more focused.
My goal is to finish that query letter and send it to agents in the next two months. Oh dear. Again, why am I so easily thrown off track, and sometimes by the simplest of setbacks?
As far as being a full-time writer, I now remember what I don’t enjoy about it. During the last 6 months, while I took off the semester to write, I felt isolated and antsy. It hit me that I function better with a schedule. I need to get up in the morning and go to a job. I need to interact with people. I do better getting out and about, being around people, being accountable to someone. I’m the kind of person who needs to squeeze in writing during the down times of a busy life.
3. Apply for at least 3 jobs a week in international development until I get one (Painful).
Yes, it was as painful as I thought it would be. I applied for 40 jobs in the U.S. and after getting no response from any of them, I started putting feelers out abroad. Even though I matched job descriptions exactly, I didn’t even get an acknowledgement on most of my applications.
As it’s very time-consuming to apply for jobs these days, I got disheartened very quickly. It used to be you could send a resume and a cover letter, but these days, applicants must often fill out online applications, completing every detail of your job history on each company’s website. It’s so ridiculous. What’s LinkedIn for, anyway? I think there should be one central place where you post your resume and you can download from that central place to a company’s website. You go through this cumbersome process and then you never hear ANYTHING back! It’s so frustrating.
Finally, I got sick of never getting any acknowledgement and spending so much time spinning my wheels for nothing. I don’t know the reason I don’t get short-listed. Some people have told me I’m overqualified. Others have told me I’m not qualified enough. Or I don’t match every single qualification. I have transferable skills, but employers seem to want you to have worked in that particular job, and they seem to want you to have no ambition to move from that job. Also, there are so many young people with Master’s degrees in International Relations coming from the big schools in the area: George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University, Johns Hopkins. Why would they hire an older person when they can hire a young person fresh out of college?
While I was in Oman, a woman contacted me through my Nizwa blog because she was considering working for the University of Nizwa. She ended up taking a job in China. I wrote to ask about possible jobs at her university and she told me they had just instituted a mandatory retirement age of 60. As I started looking at jobs in China, I saw many jobs with an age limit of 60. I figured since I only have one more year to work in China, I would focus my job search there. I’ve always wanted to teach in China for a couple of reasons: 1) Asian students in general are hard-working and 2) there are a lot of amazing things to see in China. I focused my job search there and in one week I had four interviews and I got three offers. I accepted an offer to teach at SCIC (Sino-Canadian International Colleges), Guangxi University in Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It’s not far from Vietnam and about a 3 1/2 hour bus ride from Guilin, where the movie The Painted Veil was filmed.
In all, I applied for 70 jobs, beginning my job search when I returned from California at the end of January and ending on June 13, when I got the offer from GXU. That was 21 weeks at over 3 jobs a week. I believe my days of trying to find a job in the U.S. are over. It just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.
Since I can’t get a job in my country, I’m thankful that someone will hire me from foreign lands. Looks like I’m going to China! Nǐ hǎo!!
4. Post no more than two posts a week to my blog. (This will be one of the hardest to keep!)
I actually did this. I’ve posted 52 posts in 26 weeks, about two a week. I have neglected my fellow bloggers though, and for this I feel bad. 😦
5. Continue my explorations of the East Coast over the next year, after my trip to California in early January. Venture to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Tennessee (Ann Patchett territory!). Take a road trip. And if I can get a job, or make some money freelancing, go to Costa Rica or one of the Caribbean islands. Pitch local travel articles to publications further afield.
I haven’t been to any of these places. However, I am planning a trip to New Hampshire this week. 🙂
6. Read a lot: short stories, novels, the craft of writing, travel writing.
I love to read, so this has been easy. I’ve read 22 books, mostly books on writing and novels.
7. Walk at least 5 times a week and eat healthier and smaller quantities of food.
I’ve been really good about the walking, but not so good about the eating smaller quantities of food. I managed to lose 6 pounds, but then I gained back 4, so I’m only two pounds down from where I started. Here’s a chart of my weight, which seems a kind of metaphor for my life. I always end up right back where I started from!
In a way, I feel relieved to be going abroad again. Taking a job here in the U.S. probably wouldn’t have allowed me to travel. Besides, starting a new job in a corporation or a non-profit at this point would mean starting with only 2-3 weeks of vacation per year. Teaching abroad allows me to have both the cultural immersion I crave and to have extensive time off to travel in the region where I’m based. Overall, it’s a great solution to all my problems. As I only have about 9 more years to work before I retire, and I still have my health, I may as well take advantage of teaching abroad. Besides, my kids are nowhere close to settling down, getting married or having kids; by the time they are, I should be back in the U.S., ready to settle down and enjoy the extended family. And best of all, they’re supportive of me having my adventures while I’m still young enough to have them!
The other thing I miss about being abroad are the expats and foreigners one meets when thrown into a foreign country. Everyone is an adventurer of some sort. Being in the U.S., I’m tired of having people’s eyes glaze over when I share my experiences living abroad. I love the fellow nomads that tend to gravitate to each other in foreign lands. In addition, you meet wonderful natives of the country where you are a guest. Two of my closest friends in Korea, Julie and Kim, were Koreans. And I miss dearly friends I’ve made abroad, friends the likes of which I don’t have here in America. I miss Mario, Sandy, Tahira, Kathy, Anna, Mona Lisa, Seth & Anna, Myrna… and the list goes on. We share a common experience no one else will ever understand.
In twenty-thirteen, I: Explored wadis and ruins and painted walls on Jebel Akhdar. Watched my son Adam collect sand in his eyes as he rolled down sand dunes at a Bedouin camp. Checked out the Arabian Sea from a watchtower in Sur. Watched Adam juggle stones. Swam through glowing aquamarine pools at Wadi Shab into a sunlit cave & applauded as the boys jumped off cliffs. Kissed my 20- & 21-year-old sons good morning and good night at my flat in Oman like I used to when they were babies. Wore long flowing cotton skirts and Indian cotton tunics to work at my “university” job. Stood long boring hours at too many “invigilations” at UNIZWA. Stood along the perimeter of the cattle market at Nizwa souq as men in dishdasha paraded their cows and goats in a circle. Kissed camels with Mike and the boys in Oman. Visited the massive Bahla fort that, until 2013, evaded restoration for 25 years due to mischievous jinn. Escaped gunshots, with Mario, in Wadi Arbiyyin. Watched a tree grow out of a sidewalk at Bimmah Sinkhole. Photographed an Indian roller at wetlands near Al Amerat. Enjoyed a Valentine’s Day buffet at the Sahab with Mona Lisa and Beg after an invigorating hike. Searched in vain for the Persian steps on a 6 hour hike to nowhere on Jebel Akhdar. Drank at least 168 glasses of mango juice. Had a “Brothers & Sisters” marathon session while sick in Oman. Enjoyed the blooming roses on Jebel Akhdar and met a visiting Irish couple who read my blog in Ireland and recognized me drinking wine at the Sahab. Saw tree-climbing goats at Misfat Al Abriyyin. Watched warily as the British invaded my apartment building in Nizwa. Sold my GMC Terrain to an Omani man. Watched all three seasons of Downton Abbey and got hopelessly addicted. Shared oranges, dates and coffee with Mario, an Omani man and his sisters in Wadi Bani Kharous. Saw the roses on Jebel Akhdar, again, and toasted with bubbly to Sandy and Malcolm, my two British friends. Survived a rare rainy day and floods on a sepia day in Nizwa. Went seeking the moonrise with Mario amidst the painted rocks of Izki. Shared Shang Thai with Tahira in Muscat. Went in search of the “essence” of Muscat on a steamy 42 degree day. Explored the ruins and gardens of Adam with Mario.Sold much of my “stuff” from my Nizwa flat, and shipped the remainder home. Said goodbye to my friends in Oman (a nomad in the land of nizwa).
Said “Namaste,” head bowed and hands in prayer, to scores of Nepalese. Circled around Swayambhunath, a 5th century Buddhist stupa, also known as the Monkey Temple, in Kathmandu. Caught a glimpse of the kumari at Durbar Square. Ate momos overlooking the Boudha stupa. Watched a cremation at Pashupatinath. Experienced load-shedding, and shivered constantly, in Pokhara. Met wildman Nepali actor Sagar Ansari on the shore of Phewa Tal. Drank an Everest beer at Moondance to the tune of “Oye Como Va.” Ate pumpkin soup at Love Kush. Learned to say thank you in Nepalese: “Danyaybat.” Woke up to views of the Annapurna range for 3 mornings straight. Watched the sunrise with a group of Chinese tourists over snow-covered Fish-Tailed at Sarangkot. Hiked past terraced hills from Nagarkot to Changu Narayan. Read What I Loved and Arresting God in Kathmandu. Bought royal blue and purple yak wool blankets in Kathmandu’s narrow streets and alleys. Bought an ornamented Hindu deity mask and a ruby ring and turquoise earrings and Thangka paintings. Listened to Tibetan Incantations in Thamel (catbird in south asia).
Fell in love with balconies, gelato and Spanish fans in Barcelona. Met Antoni Gaudí at Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, Casa Batlló, & La Perdrera. Saw a futuristic fashion show where a model sported a Peter Pan outfit with what looked like a piece of Kraft Singles cheese tied around his waist. Got lost on my way to Montserrat. Got lost in the streets of Toledo. Ate Marzipan Delicia in Toledo. Fell in love with the cloisters at Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes. Admired tea roses at Alcázar of Toledo. Drove a Peugeot past giant bulls and windmill farms from Toledo to Malaga. Pretended to be Don Quixote at Consuegra’s windmills. Bought tiered and colorful Spanish skirts in Barcelona and Andalucia. Enjoyed una cerveza with Aussies Carole & Barry in Ronda, Andalucia. Read Duende: A Journey Into the Heart of Flamenco and then listened to flamenco in Granada. Read Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia. Ate tapas in Seville and endured horrible heat in the Alcázar. Cried at the sight of the candy-cane Moorish arches at Cordoba’s Mezquita. Read Shadow of the Wind. Ate fresh sardines at a chiringuito along the Mediterranean. Ate churros dipped in chocolate in Granada. Sipped tinto de verano with Marianne from East of Malaga. Explored the white-washed village of Frigiliana with Marianne.
Had heart-to-heart talks on walks and over wine with Jo of restlessjo in Tavira, Portugal. Went on a bird-watching boat tour. Went postal with Jo in Tavira. Cried at the views from the Moorish Castle in Sintra, Portugal. Enjoyed coffee & pastel de nata with Manuel and his wife in Sintra. Listened to Fado and songs by Sutil, a band of Spanish boys, on the streets of Sintra. Learned how to say thank you in Portuguese: obrigado! Got LOSTin Lisbon. Climbed the Tower of Belem. Trekked up and down the hills of Alfama. Saw the Atlantic Ocean from its eastern shore in Cascais (in search of a thousand cafés).
Flew from Lisbon via London back to Virginia. Got an iPhone. Got a black Toyota Corolla. Got obsessed with Instagram. Perused antiques and LAUGH signs in Lucketts, Virginia. Had a “Bad day in progress: Approach at your own Risk.” Toured wineries of Charlottesville with my daughter Sarah. Returned to work at Northern Virginia Community College to find my classes overrun by Saudi students. Visited Annette from Beauty Along the Road in Monterey, Virginia. Saw leaves the colors of pomegranates, squash & pumpkins in Virginia’s mountains, for the first time in 4 years. Collected colorful maple and oak leaves. Turned 58. Hiked through Douthat State Park & to Saint Mary’s Rock. Celebrated Thanksgiving with my sister, my father, my husband and my children, for the first time in 4 years. Cooked southern grits, a Martha Stewart breakfast frittata, chicken & apple sausage patties, and pancakes with cranberry maple compote for my traditional Christmas brunch. Got hooked on Ann Patchett. Lost at Bananagrams, Oodles, and Scattergories. Read The Seamstress and dreamt of Spain. Decided to take off spring semester 2014. Prepared for my trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco in January.
It’s been a year of adventure, sad goodbyes, upheaval, and readjustment to life in America. It’s been a year of highs (my trips around Oman, through Spain, Portugal and Nepal) and lows (returning to work at the community college and dealing with reverse culture shock). It’s been a year of reconnecting with family and completing travel writing courses and exploring my home region of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Overall, twenty-thirteen has been a time of great change and many challenges. I’m ready to settle in and FOCUS, to take solid steps to achieve a number of personal goals in twenty-fourteen. 🙂
Tuesday, November 26: The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is Unexpected. Says Cheri Lucas: The world is an interesting place: we stumble upon unexpected things each day, like signs that are unintentionally amusing, bizarre sculptures, or even strange evidence of a miniature world on the side of a building.
So, your photo challenge this week is to capture something unexpected. You can also interpret the theme in other ways: a street scene or landscape that just doesn’t look quite right, an impromptu portrait of a loved one, or any other image that reveals a sense of surprise.
In my travels over the last three years, I’ve run across too many unexpected things to count, but I thought I’d show some of the surprising people I encountered along my journey.
I found this white-haired monk at Donghae Yonggung-Sa, a temple in Busan, South Korea. I thought it was funny that we both had the same color of hair (an april jaunt to busan), especially in Korea, land of the black-haired people. 🙂
I unexpectedly met this famous Nepali actor shooting a movie scene in Pokhara, Nepal (pokhaha: a stroll around phewa tal & seeking shelter (& warmth) at moondance). He says he plays a fighter in the movie, Kale, that should be released in January 2014. His name is Sagar Ansari and he has been in other movies, including Kalapani, which he tells me I can buy in a DVD shop. He asks me if I think he’s handsome and I just laugh, thinking to myself that this is one scary-looking guy. 🙂
I also had an unexpected encounter at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Muscat, Oman with Joanna Lumley, who plays Patsy Stone on Absolutely Fabulous (absolutely fabulous: a surprise encounter with patsy stone 🙂).
And finally, one day when I was walking through Nizwa Souq, not far from my house in Oman, I came upon this unexpected group of old Omani men and their guns.
And I bet this vendor at Nizwa souq didn’t expect me to catch him napping on the job.
I certainly never expected to encounter this group of fishermen on the beach at Al Musaanah in Oman.
“If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.” ~ Heraclitus
Tuesday, October 8: Today I had to sit and listen as one of my Saudi students did a TED Talk presentation about “Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman who dared to drive.” My student, a female, criticized this woman, who dared to challenge a society’s rules about women driving. I believe Manal al-Sharif is to be applauded, but I felt sick when I heard this student criticize Manal on the grounds that “the traffic in Saudi is really crazy and a woman shouldn’t drive because it’s not safe, or, that a Saudi woman shouldn’t drive because she should be treated like a queen or a princess, or because our religion says a woman shouldn’t drive.” Hmmm. I didn’t know that cars were around when the Quran was written! My student even went on to say this woman is a betrayal to the Saudi people and to her country. The male Saudi students in the class also agreed strongly with my student that a woman shouldn’t drive for other equally ridiculous reasons that I can’t even remember now.
I highly recommend this TED Talk: TED Talks: Manal al-Sharif: A Saudi woman who dared to drive
Manal al-Sharif says in this TED talk: There was this official study that was presented to the Shura Council — it’s the consultative council appointed by the king in Saudi Arabia — and it was done by a local professor, a university professor. He claims it’s done based on a UNESCO study. And the study states, the percentage of rape, adultery, illegitimate children, even drug abuse, prostitution in countries where women drive is higher than in countries were women don’t drive.
As far as I know, Saudi Arabia is the last country in the world where women don’t drive. Thus this “university professor’s study” has to be talking about ALL the other societies in the world when he cites his statistics.
My Asian students were up in arms with this students’ claims and opinions and had some good questions for the Saudi student: Why did Manal get arrested and thrown in jail if there is no law prohibiting women from driving? Because of tradition, they answered. It’s just not done.
I argued that in Cairo, where the traffic is the most chaotic and horrible of any country I’ve visited, Muslim women drive all the time.
It’s sad and incredibly frustrating to me that even students who have come to America to study still continue to think in such a backward way and have not been even one bit enlightened during their education and stay in America.
All of these arguments, and more equally ridiculous ones, that I’ve heard recently, are all lame reasons given by a male-dominated society to hold on to their power and keep women as second-class citizens. What continues to frustrate me, after living two years in Oman, and now teaching Saudi students in America, is that the Arab women I’ve met from these countries continue to make excuses as to why they allow this subjugation to continue.
At least, after spending two years in Oman, I can appreciate the more progressive thinking of the Sultan in allowing women in his country to have more freedom than in neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Finally, I applaud strong, forward-thinking women like Manal al-Sharif, for trying to break taboos and change a ferociously male-dominated society.
Friday, August 23: Ailsa’s Travel Theme for this week is play. She quotes:
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” – Plato
“Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
My son Alex loves pushing himself to the limits to accomplish tough gymnastics moves. Here he is playing in our backyard doing some handstands and plank moves on his rings.
Click on any of the pictures below to see a full-sized slide show.
Here are some monks playing drums and doing Sunmudo Martial Arts at Golgulsa Sunmudo Temple near Gyeongju, South Korea.
These children are driving around helter-skelter in motorized cars in Gyeonju, South Korea.
And these children are playing at Sports Day at Chojeon Elementary School in Chojeon, South Korea.
These Omani girls are having fun playing with mud on Jebel Akhdar, Oman.
And in Ethiopia, during a slow time at the Bishangari Lodge in Lake Langano, the staff plays a game of checkers using bottle caps to pass the time.
Finally, part of play is just relaxing while on holiday in exotic places with a glass of wine. This is me, a self-portrait, having a glass of wine on the rooftop of the Acropolis View Hotel, with, guess what (?), the Acropolis behind me. 🙂