Rushing Goes to Ft. Sumpter

Last month the boy and I went to a wedding in Charleston and while there, righted a wrong in the boy’s life. Somehow, despite being a (nearly) life-long Civil War buff, he had never been to Ft. Sumpter. I did the research beforehand, got us up early on a Saturday morning, and we jumped on the ferry out to Ft. Sumpter!

Looking out from the ferry toward the bridge over the Charleston harbor.

The fort, in case your history is a little rusty, is actually an island in the mouth of the Charleston harbor. It was built following the war of 1812 (thanks Wikipedia) and switched hands twice during the Civil War.

The fort!

The fort was hammered by Confederate bombardment on 3 sides during the opening battle of the Civil War, destroying sections of the fort. After the war, the fort was partially rebuilt to serve during the Spanish-American war, and of course to preserve it as a historic landmark, you can see the different stages of construction from the brick, to the early cement, to the modern reinforcement.

Matt arrives!

Because the boy is such a history buff, we opted out of the museum and guided tours and went around on our own. I learned more about canons than I ever thought I would know in life.

Canons: more interesting than one would expect.
Canons: more interesting than one would expect.

The ferry schedule gives visitors about 1.5 hours on the island, which was just about the perfect amount of time to leisurely walk around the entire fort and take some pictures. They warn you going out that the fort is about 10 degrees cooler than in Charleston and they. are. not. kidding. Not only is it 10 degrees cooler, but the wind is twice as strong. So an hour and a half is just about all you can take temperature-wise as well.

Note the jackets. In Charleston. In late March.
Note the jackets. In Charleston. In late March.

One more check off the bucket list, achieved!


A Weekend in the Mountains

Spring has sprung here in central NC. The jonquils are coming up, the mean temperature is above 50 degrees for the week, and there is just the tiniest touch of humidity in the air. Basically, it’s beautiful. And what does one do when it’s beautiful? Spend as much time as humanly possible outside!

And that is exactly what I accomplished this past weekend with the help of the boy and a couple of friends. We met in Asheville on Friday, and had dinner at Jack of the Wood while a couple of great bluegrass bands played. After a round over at the Bier Gardenit was time to turn in and rest up for the day ahead.

Saturday morning we drove out to Hot Springs, NC which is 45 miles northwest of Asheville. Hot Springs is a really adorable little down that sits right on top of the Appalachian Trail and, as the name suggests, natural mineral springs. We camped out at a site maintained by the Hot Springs Spawhich turned out to be a lot more secluded than we originally thought. We were right by the French Broad river away from the RV hookups and other campers.


We took some time to set up camp before setting out on our first hike:

The Unsinkable Molly Brown makes her NC camping debut
Zach and Maria get their tent up
Zach and Maria get their tent up

Our hike for Saturday was Max Patch, a large bald hill off the Appalachian Trail about 18 miles from Hot Springs. The Patch has spectacular views and we were told it would be the perfect spot for a picnic, which it was!

We were not informed, however, that you will be completely convinced you are lost on your way to Max Patch and turn around approximately 2-3 times while on your way to the trail. So there went one hour of potential hiking time. Once we made it there, Max Patch and the surrounding trails were a great first day’s hike.

A great view form Max Patch
A great view of the Blue Ridge
Matt playing in the snow on our way up to Max Patch
Matt playing in the snow on our way up to Max Patch

Saturday night was spent around the roar of our excellent campfire  which we used to grill kielbasa, bake potatoes and of course roast marshmallows.

Matt and I slept late Sunday, while our campmates had gotten up earlier and greeted us with granola and coffee from the only coffee shop in Hot Springs. After packing up the campsite, we followed a hunch to the other side of the river, where we hiked up to the Lover’s Leap lookout, which offered amazing views of the town.

Our view of Hot Springs
Our view of Hot Springs

From there, we hiked a while longer on the section of the App Trail heading out of town, away from Max Patch, and doubled back when it was time to go for some ice cream.


If you ever find yourself in Hot Springs, you will undoubtedly go, as we did, several times to the ArtiSun Gallery & MarketplaceThey supplied us with our morning coffee, afternoon ice cream (made in Asheville!) and overall good advice about how to get where we needed to go. We LOVED them.

2012 In Review – Part II

Continuing a review of the things I neglected to blog about in 2012, Part II is all about fun travels in…


This fall I got to visit DC twice for two work conferences, the Salsa CRM conference and the New Organizing Institute Unconference. I learned a TON, met some cool people, saw some sights, and ate some great food:

Outside the Capitol
Outside the Capitol
The Capitol and reflecting pool
The Capitol and reflecting pool
Union Station
Union Station
The National Sculpture Garden with the National Archives in the background
The National Sculpture Garden with the National Archives in the background
Geeking out in front of NPR HQ!
Geeking out in front of NPR HQ!
Ni hau Chinatown!
Ni hau Chinatown!
Dupont Circle
My bird friends in Dupont Circle- I couldn't resist giving them lunch scraps!
My bird friends in Dupont Circle- I couldn’t resist giving them lunch scraps!
A gorgeous elephant painting at the Phillips Collection
A gorgeous elephant painting at the Phillips Collection
The Taft Bridge Inn- My diggs the first time around
The Taft Bridge Inn- My diggs the first time around
My little room
My little room
Living Area at the B&B
Living Area at the B&B
Ahh food truck food!
Ahh food truck food!
Chef Driven DC, where I got my delicious, locally-sourced lunch.
Chef Driven DC, where I got my delicious, locally-sourced lunch.
Ben's Chili Bowl- A DC Staple
Ben’s Chili Bowl- A DC Staple

GSA 2012, or My First Conference

This past week, I had the privilege of attending the Global Studies Association’s 2012 Conference on Global Rebellion and Dystopia. This was my first academic conference, of many more I hope, and I learned a ton about academia and the various topics presented at the conference.

The first thing I should mention is something I hadn’t thought about until attending this conference.  There is a difference between International Studies, my undergraduate major, and Global Studies, which was the field of many of the conference attendees.  Both are interdisciplinary areas, pulling from a wide range of areas to create a better understanding of the world and our place in it, whoever “we” may be.  But International Studies is primarily focused on political science, the relationships between states, their governments, organizations, and international law.  Global Studies, as I learned, is much more of a sociology/philosophy/psychology-focused discipline where more abstract ‘thinking person’ subjects, like identity, come into play.  It was great to learn and experience this difference because one of my shortcomings is accessing the ‘thinking person’ inside myself and making ties between the areas I am interested in and larger ideas.

The other thing I want to mention should have been clear in the topic of the conference, “Global Rebellion and Dystopia.”  This was a conference of leftist-thinking, and sometimes Marxist, academians.  While I expected some level of agreement between everyone at the conference, I had no idea just HOW similar everyone would be in their views.  It made me feel a little awkward at times because I wasn’t fully indoctrinated into their counter-hegemonic, anti-neoliberalism point of view.  It’s not that disagreed with any of the main views of people there, but I guess I am still a bit naive and optimistic about the world than to view dystopia and ruin everywhere I go.

The conference events were broken down into keynotes and panel sessions.  My favorite was a panel about Education and Liberation, which featured 3 papers on creating more of a global outlook in the classroom.  As a long-time Model UN and Arab League participant, I really enjoyed a speaker who ran a human rights simulation for high school students as a way to teach them, and his own university students, about different human rights situations  around the world.

My panel was entitled “Cyber Rebellions, Social Media, and the Struggle for Democracy,” and there were three of us presenting.  You can see my PowerPoint on Social Media and Democracy in Latin America on SlideShare! The other two presenters talked about Kony 2012 and the Collateral Damage documentary by WikiLeaks, which led to an interested discussion about the difference between these two videos and the amount of attention they each received.

I should mention here that the question and answer period in every panel or keynote really became more of a comment period or in some cases a discussion.  While this was great because it is far more interesting to discuss ideas than listen to Q&A, often times people would make a comment that was about their own personal soapbox than the topics presented.  This leads me to believe that the people that do this in classes grow up to be professors that do this at conferences, a vicious cycle of annoyance…

I am so glad I had this opportunity to learn and explore a new city.  I loved every second of it (even the annoying seconds) and can’t wait for next time!

Check out my photos on Facebook for what it’s like in Victoria.

Another go-around in China

Wow. I’ve been having a lot of adventures lately and haven’t buckled down to write a thing about them.  I do have a little something I wrote while on the plane back from Shanghai, and a little tidbit that has been my internet obsession lately: designing my new apartment in North Carolina.  More to come, I pinky swear!

Hang Time

The short time when an athlete is suspended in midair, between jumping and falling is called their hang time. As travelers we are lucky to have an inordinate amount of hang time between departure and arrival. These long flights leave a lot of time for reflection, which I like. Long flights mean the beginning or the end of a trip and whether you’re gearing up for, or processing a great adventure far away, at least to me, reflection is a useful tool.
Flying back from Shanghai today I was not consumed with reflections of my trip:  visiting the parents, watching Claire graduate from high school, or seeing the sights in Beijing. Instead  a girl returning from a year abroad in Chile and Shanghai got me thinking about my first big adventure a year ago.
The five-hour flight back from Quito was not nearly log enough to process the changes in my perspective. Now, a year later, I think I understand what study abroad has meant for me. My world view has shrunk dramatically. Nowhere and nothing is out of reach since I now know the world is not as large or daunting as I previously thought it to be.  But at the same time, I have realized just how HUGE and diverse our world is. The feeling I had standing 16,000 feet above sea level on a volcano in Ecuador is the same feeling I get driving through Shanghai and Beijing, seeing 20-story apartment buildings continue into the horizon, knowing that there are more people in those cities than I have ever or will ever meet in my life.
Maybe I’ve thought this before, maybe I’ve even written it before. I’m ok with repetition because it will just cement this outlook in my mind.
Design inspiration:
Lately I’ve been reading a lot of interior design blogs, DIY blogs, and even wedding blogs to get some inspiration for my first apartment out in the real world!  My  sister’s graduation party was at a little boutique hotel near downtown Shanghai and the lobby/outdoor space has some really cool design elements I wanted to share here:
Great graphic rug, especially combined with the leather furniture and weathered table
This is the reception area, I love the wall of old luggage! The hostess' station was also an old suitcase, mounted on a large, weathered piece of wood
And to plug my own mothers’ great style, here’s a picture of her fab table settings:
A little confetti in black and gold so you know you're at a graduation party, simple placecards and menus, plus the white linens and glass vases make a chic dinner table!

China- The Yin, the Yang, and all that Smog.

Shanghai is a sprawling urban landscape.  Skyscrapers dominate the horizon in all directions all the way out from the city center to the suburbs, where office buildings give way to high-rise apartments.

In the midst of all this modernity lie a few remnants of Shanghai’s past. Areas like the Bund and the French Concession, and treasures like Jing An Temple and the Yu Yuan gardens remind visitors of China’s colonial past and the older days of the emperors.  It is the ying and yan, the heaviness and lightness of traditional Chinese architecture, reflected in the old and new of Shanghai that makes it such an interesting place to visit.

My first experience with this was with Jing An temple.  All around the temple are tall office buildings, next door is a giant shopping mall. But within the temple walls, the noise and craziness of the city seem to melt away.  Worshipers light incense and go through their devotions, there is a stillness found only in churches, temples and the like, free of the distractions of city life.

Yu Yuan gardens is another great example of the old in the midst of all of the new.  Surrounding the actual gardens are shops and restaurants in buildings whose architecture is more classically Chinese, similar to Chinatown in New York City.

Stepping inside the gardens is like going back in time.  Rock outcroppings left in their natural form, koi ponds, and winding paths through whitewashed walls surround the dozens of pagodas within the garden. The doorways through the walls are shaped like vases because in Chinese, the word for vase and the word for peace are homophones.

In the more recent past, Shanghai’s colonial architecture reflected its European occupiers.  Though a good amount of those buildings were and replaced with modern high rises, certain areas have been preserved.  The Bund is one such neighborhood, on the Huangpu River, which divides Shanghai.  The buildings are stone, with arched windows, cornices and columns, reflecting the style of their British and French builders.

Another neighborhood is the French Concession, a hybrid residential and commercial area.  We found a walking tour that highlights some of this architecture in the homes, museums, and shops in the area.  While we cut our walk short because of the bitter cold, we saw Romeo’s balcony, a building designed by a famed Hungarian architect, and the home of Soong Ching-Ling.  It was a departure from the big city, like a trip to a small hamlet, but without ever  leaving Shanghai.

Only one thing could dampen the beauty of all of the city’s treasures. Smog.  Some days it’s visible as a hazy horizon, other days it clouds the sky making it completely overcast.  But that is the balance of this giant metropolis, the yin with the yang.  With such a huge population in one place, smog is an inevitability without proper environmental policies put in place.

Despite the smog, Shanghai exhibits a traditional balance in a modern context. All you have to do is look for it.

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Chum Reap Sour.

In Khmer, the main language of Cambodia, ‘chum reap sour (choom rep soor)’ means hello and is said with both hands together palm to palm  in front of one’s mouth, as in prayer.  Stepping off the plane at the Siem Reap airport you feel this same feeling of peace conveying in Cambodian greetings .  Off in the distance, palm trees and jungle extend to the horizon.  From the outside, the terminal looks more like a spa or resort than an airport, and the interior with its stone statues and tropical flowers maintains this relaxed atmosphere.

Though Siem reap has only recently become a bustling tourist destination, the town still has a relaxed atmosphere, like any beach resort.  In fact, spending an evening on the upper level of any of the restaurants on pub street, enjoying the gentle breezes and a cold beer, you may forget you are in Cambodia and not in some small coastal town.

Siem Reap is located almost in the center of Cambodia and has a population of 171,800.  The other major industries in the province, also named Siem Reap, are fishing and rice-growing.  Though the reign of the Khmer Rouge has long since ended and Pol Pot died in 1998, reminders of this dark time in Cambodia still exist.  Victims of land mines panhandle,  sell postcards or tourist books, or form bands to play traditional music for money on the streets of the city.  Visitors are warned not to stray off marked paths for the fear of undiscovered land mines, and museums on the history of the Khmer Rouge are not hard to find.

Other than Angkor and the outlying ancient Khmer temples, Siem Reap has plenty for visitors to take advantage of during their stay.  The Old Market is just off the river and is open from about 9 a.m. until approximately 6 p.m. but varies between individual stalls.  The Night Market is just off Pub Street and opens around 5 p.m. and continues until the wee hours of the morning.  Cambodia is on the American dollar except for change smaller than a dollar, which they give in Riel.  There are approximately 4,000 Riel to the dollar, so instead of a quarter in change, visitors receive a 1,000 Riel bill.  Bargaining is typical in both markets for any of the goods from silk pillowcases, tablecloths, and scarves, to wood or metal carvings, and spices and teas.

The entertainment center of Siem Reap is Pub Street. The street and its adjoining alleys are jam-packed with everything from tapas bars, Irish pubs , and discos to restaurants featuring French, Continental, Khmer and many other types of cuisine.  Just off the street are more opportunities at the more upscale hotels on the river and hawker-type stalls with super affordable Khmer cooking.

The dollar is good in Cambodia.  A good dinner with drinks and an appetizer or dessert for one will run you only $10.  In the market, spices and tea are less than a dollar per sachet, pillowcases for as low as $2, silk scarves for only $3.  More wily bargainers may find even lower prices than these!

A strange sight unique to the streets of Siem Reap are the fish massages.  At first glance it may appear dozens of storefronts are attempting to sell tourists small pet fish.  Upon further inspection, the fish tanks are actually aquatic massage tanks, where participants dip their feet in to have hungry fish nibble away the dirt of the day’s adventures.  As one vendor posted on the tank, “never try, never know,” and so it is, tourists are drawn in less for the relaxing experience and more for the great story to share with friends once they return home.

Real massage parlors are not hard to find.  It is almost impossible to walk down a street without hearing “Massage lady?” at least half a dozen times and eager masseuses will attempt to hand out fliers of their services.

It is likewise impossible to walk around without solicitations of “Tuk tuk lady?”  Tuk tuks, motorcycle-powered passenger carts, are the main taxi of Siem Reap.  They will take you anywhere, whether it be a hotel for dinner, temples for a whole day, or the airport for your return flight.  They also all have their own unique drivers and paint schemes.  I spied quite a few Batman carts, and one “party” tuk tuk complete with bumping music and flashing lights.

It’s hard to leave Siem Reap but it is possible.   Saying goodbye in Khmer is done in the same peaceful way as hello, with joined hands and the words “chum reap lea (choom rep ley-ah).” So with newfound peace, take your goodies from the markets, board the plane, and plan another visit.

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