Happy Thanksgiving from Macau!

I’m thankful for many things in 2017.

I’m thankful that I have become stronger alongside my dragon boat friends.

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Training (?)
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Eating
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Swimming

I’m thankful to have become a more impassioned teacher for my students.

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By Casper, a design student from Writing Clinic
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Social English Lunch: Me, Dean, Bruna, Bruno, and Caleb

I’m thankful that I got to celebrate my 24th birthday with those who love me.

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Stephanie made me an AMAZING Scorpio cake, Spencer sent me a matching water sign card, and our Xinjiang friends made us polo! Not to mention my friends and family from America who sent me gifts ALL the way to Macau!
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Here’s to 24!
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Birthday drinks at the Mandarin Oriental
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FAR EAST DRAGON: Kaffir Lime Leaf Infused Gin, Passion Fruit Purée, Almond and Coconut Liqueur, Vanilla, Dragon Eggs
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THE RUINS OF ST. PAUL: London Dry Gin, Chamomile Tea, Lemongrass, Lychee Juice, Sesame Cordial, Cinnamon Syrup, Lemon Squeezes, Fresh Mint

I’m thankful to live in this crazy, beautiful country that is Macau.

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View from the Macau Tower
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Highest Commercial Bungy Jump in the world

I’m thankful for trips to the motherland where I can feel inspired.

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Cable car ride to the Big Buddha statue in Hong Kong
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Po Lin Monastery on the left, Big Buddha on the right
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Big Buddha is as old as me!
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Love me some Chinese architecture
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268 steps to the top!

I’m thankful that I got to spend one last, amazing day with our Xinjiang and Beijing friends, and I’m excited to go home to them one day.

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Bon voyage!
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Gloria and I on our aesthetics game at the Macau Grand Prix
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Jessica, my breakfast buddy ❤
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Oh, to see you smile!
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My Fulbright Family doing what we do best — making laminated cards

Last but not least, I’m thankful that I get to see my partner, best friend, and love of my life in two weeks!

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Fun fact: There are two iconic Buddha representations. One is Siddhartha Gautama, or, The Buddha, while the other is Hotei, or, the Laughing Buddha. The former is the actual teacher who founded Buddhism, while the latter is a person who achieved enlightenment through the practice. In fact, we can all become a Buddha!

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Parallax

One degree above the equator,

and you start to see things….differently.

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An ordinary city on an ordinary river, but….hey, wait a second! It looks like Tampa!

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An ordinary cat on an ordinary lap, but….what’s that? She purrs like Zeus and Shadow.

Parallax: the effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions

You pick-up, you drop-off, you eat, you laugh, you come home.

You feel as if the world is somehow….different.

But it’s not the world that’s changed — it’s your perspective of it.

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Take an elevator to the 13th floor of the government houses in Little India.

From this view, you are awarded with Singapore’s deeper and richer histories

inlaid with the new.

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Singapore is a paradise.

Apparently, paradise is filled with

inspiration and gratitude

for

love and friendship.

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At night, when you curl up in your space pod, remember how they sang to you

in the temple,

on the bridge,

and in the lights.

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Fun fact: Singapore’s population is 76% Chinese, 15% Malay, and 9% Indian. They exist in multiracial harmony (by law).

Finding My Niche

After a few months in Macau, I feel like I’m finally starting to settle in. I’ve attended local events, accomplished menial life tasks, and made friends with strangers! I’ve also reaffirmed what I love about teaching and giving myself to others through my work.

Last week was Mark’s birthday and we celebrated in the park by surprising our New Orleans native with cake and red beans and rice! It’s starting to cool off so it feels really nice out at night. The day before, Mark and I attended Macau MGM’s Oktoberfest and I got to experience another grandiose, luxurious, ostentatious, perfume-saturating-the-air casino! That’s what I love about the casinos here, they’re not just a casino, they’re an experience. They want to “Wow” you from the moment you walk up to their flashing lights to the moment you walk out with their signature perfume stuck to your clothes.

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The MGM casino has a full size castle and aquarium upon entry!

Other than that, I’ve successfully:

  • completed an international wire transfer
  • deferred my student loans until next year
  • received a care package at the post office
  • meal prepped and upped my weight at the gym
  • kept up with reading [Batman] and writing [this blog]
  • watched a movie at the movie theater

They may not sound like much, but I had to relearn how to do most things that come as second nature back home.

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Running errands on a cloudy, luminous night

Lessons on Teaching

Up until my most recent lesson, I was becoming worried that my work here wasn’t helping. I was worried that, even though I came here to teach English, my students weren’t getting anything from me. But then, my lesson on “Job Interview Skills” went really well and I had a lot of fun! I realized that I was setting myself up for failure by obsessing over negative thoughts while undermining success stories. For example, I work one-on-one with a student who is trying to improve his English writing for the IELTS test so that he can go to design school in Melbourne. He comes to the writing clinic week after week with new drafts of prep questions he’s spent hours answering. The beautiful thing is that he is improving, and I’m really proud of him. I have to remember that there will always be a handful of students I’m going to help, but I can’t expect to help all of them — that’s just unrealistic. I also have to remember that each student, each class, and each lesson is unique, so I should treat my work — including the challenges and rewards that accompany it — with respect.

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Public Administration class: Professor Wong, Suki, me, Alex, and Cindy

Bay to Bay

Today, I made a friend all by myself! Thirteen friends, to be exact. This was something I was struggling with given the obvious language barrier and fact that I spend all my time on campus. But, as fate would have it, I met some folks in the gym who are on the Dragon Boat team! I had been staring at their poster on the wall for weeks, wishing I could read Chinese characters so that I could contact them and join, but — lucky me — I ended up running into them instead! Karl, their coach, invited me to practice this afternoon where I got to meet the rest of the team. I used what I learned from SACA Golden Dragon in Tampa so as to not embarrass myself on the water. I even learned a few new tricks, too.

It always surprises me how much we can learn from each other even though we don’t share the same language. With minimal English exchange, I was able to participate in their group activity and feel welcomed.

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A beautiful day on the bay! On the right is 1 of 3 bridges that connects Macau to Taipa

Fun Fact: Dragon boat racing is a 2,500 year old tradition in southern China.

 

 

 

The Coconut Gave Me Food Poisoning

That’s life! Sometimes you get hit by a car in Nashville, sometimes you get sick and miss your favorite DJs, Zeds Dead, and sometimes you get food poisoning on your dream vacation in Thailand. Many great things happen to me, but it’s realistic to remember that many bad things happen, too. That balance in life reminds me that everything is temporary.

I won’t go into detail about my deathly food poisoning experience, but I will say I’m glad it happened towards the end of my trip so it didn’t interfere with much of my exploring. In fact, it was my own fault that it happened in the first place because I was already finished with a great day, but I just had to make true this vision of me sitting on a beach drinking from a coconut. It was satisfying in the moment, and never again after that!

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It was delicious while it lasted
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The vision I made come true

The Solo Traveller

My mom told me to always use the buddy system. She’s right….BUT, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and see if I was capable of traveling to another country by myself. The answer is: Yes!

I got the idea from looking at pictures on Tumblr when I was a teenager. I saw beautiful pictures of cliffs on the beach and I thought it would be really incredible to see those in person. Before that, when we were kids, my best friend, Michelle, and I watched The Beach — a movie based off of Alex Garland’s 1996 novel. While I was not obsessed with finding the “perfect” beach like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, I was keen to swim in crystal clear waters and escape the noise of Macau for a little while.

I spent a full day in travel from Macau to Krabi, each step of the way becoming more and more….bumpy. When I landed at the Krabi airport, I purchased a shuttle ticket to Ao Nang Beach, the place I stayed at for the first and last nights of my trip. In between, I stayed in a bungalow at Railay Beach which is only accessible by longtail boat.

When I got on the shuttle bus, it was dark and raining and my hands were shaking. I felt really stupid all of a sudden for coming to a new country all by myself and thought about turning around and going home. But I came all this way for a specific reason so I continued on. The bus ride was….scary….considering the driver kept crashing into trees, but once I finally got to my hostel at Ao Nang, things started to look up because I was the only person booked in the four-person room that night! And, the hostel was really clean and modern so I was happy. For dinner, I had the most delicious Indian food I’ve ever tasted.

In the morning, I was off to the beach! But not before a yummy, sweet breakfast and a cheap clothes shopping spree! The exchange rate is 1 USD to 33 THB, therefore, I was rich.

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Coconut pancakes with caramelized bananas and cashew nuts

The Beach (minus Sal)

It was definitely like I saw in the pictures. I felt like Mary Poppins jumping through beautiful paintings to new worlds on the other side!

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Ao Nang Beach

Don’t miss the hidden trails — guarded by monkeys — that lead to other beaches….

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Be careful of monkey poop on the railings!
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While the majority of Thailand practices Buddhism, the southern tip of Krabi practices Islam
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Dare to explore!

A bit rainy in Ao Nang, it was now time to spend the weekend at Railay Beach. Like I said, Railay is only accessible by longtail boat; there are no cars on this “island” (it’s not really an island, but it’s cut off from the rest of the world by high mountains and cliffs).

Passengers have to wade through water to mount the longtail boat, so be sure to travel light! A longtail boat is no fancy thing, just a wooden boat with an exposed generator on the back that’s connected to a manual propeller.

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And awaaaaaaaaaaay we go!
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You must wait there are until 8 passengers for the boat, this could take minutes or hours
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But the views are amazing!
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Amazing, I tell you!

When I finally landed, a kind local showed me the way to my bungalow. I definitely would not have found it without him because Railay is a little less developed than Ao Nang, meaning, there aren’t any marked roads to show you the way, only a few signs. A bungalow means there was no air conditioning and I chose this as opposed to a nicer resort because I thought it would be “fun” and really test my limits. All in all, it was quiet, dark, and beautiful like I wanted.

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Cliffside views from the path to my bungalow
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Take a dip in the pool if you’re tired of the ocean
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First monkey sighting!!! He’s so cute!
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Different country, different natural disasters

My time in Railay was spent exploring most parts of the island. The island offers several beaches — West Railay, East Railay, Phra Nang, and Tonsai — complete with cliffs, lagoons, viewpoints, and special caves. Thanks to my local friend, Tom, I saw more of Railay than I would have alone, and I am grateful that he showed me the way.

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Rock climbing is a very popular activity when in Thailand
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Princess Caves (read description below)
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Many lingams
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Not just a “penis cave”
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Mountain climbed to the viewpoint of West and East Railay beaches
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Secret lagoon (it’s not really a secret, but it IS quite a trek)
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View of lagoon from the other side (Photo Credit: Tour Guide Tom)
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Longtail boats with ominous storm clouds in the background
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My favorite beach, Phra Nang
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Lone cliff at Phra Nang
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The moon at Phra Nang
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Beautiful afternoon at Phra Nang

When in Thailand….

I would have loved to see the live Muay Thai fighting at Tom’s bar, but that was the night I got sick so I couldn’t go. The night I was alive, however, I was able to try a few touristy things like getting a Thai massage (twice), indulging in a Thai pancake with Nutella and banana, and watching the most insane fire show ever.

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Probably a good idea I didn’t see it
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Strike a pose!
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I want to try every flavor of Thai pancake!

When I finally made it home, I was grateful to be back in Macau. It actually felt comforting to ride the bus again and listen to Chinese voices I can’t understand. I realized that I’ve made Macau my home base and, even though it was nice to get away for a bit, I’m not ready to leave yet.

Until next time, enjoy this compilation video of my fun times in Thailand!

Fun fact: The cliffs are stained red from iron, white from limestone, and black from….ah, we couldn’t figure that one out.

Home Away From Home

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! Today marks the 15th day of the 8th lunar cycle this year. The Chinese celebrate by hanging lanterns in the street, eating mooncakes, and gathering with loved ones. I think it’s something similar to America’s Thanksgiving where we celebrate the fall harvest by eating with friends and family.

Today, our lovely Xinjiang neighbors prepared a bountiful and delicious lunch for us! They made a traditional dish called “polo” which is rice with carrots, beef, and raisins. It tastes like fried rice that is a little bit sweet but also savory at the same time! You can top the polo with vinegar and spice soaked vegetables like Chinese eggplant, broccoli, pepper, and cucumber. All of it was, of course, delicious.

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Mi-Autumn harvest

 

The thing I love most about the Xinjiang teachers is that they have showed us nothing but kindness since the day we met them. Every time I see them, they have smiles on their faces and they are always sharing their food with me! They freely and eagerly share stories about their home, teaching us a lot about their culture. While still a part of China, the Xinjiang province is so far and vast that they have developed their own unique – sometimes rural – way of life. 

They all had to leave their families behind for 3 months to come to Macau. I think it’s really brave and commendable to come all this way in order to provide a better life for their families when they return. I can feel that family is important to them. They make me feel as if we are a family. 

To be honest, I like talking to them because they remind me of my mom with the way they look and the way they treat me: strong, beautiful, and kind. 

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Front: Leah & Stephanie Back: Me, Tim, Mark, Asiah, Emma, Esther, Gloria, Jessica, Dylan, & Susan

Not to mention, the countless times the other ETAs have made me feel like we’re a family. I think you form a strong bond with anyone you go through some stuff with, and moving to Macau definitely qualifies as some stuff. We make an effort to have meals together, look out for each other, and do really good work together. For that, I am grateful. I hope to have them in my life for years to come because we can always look back on this experience as a time where we laughed, grew, and lived together.

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“ETA Welcome Lunch” Back: Isabel, Director Lin, Joanna, Me, & Deputy Director David S. Front: Esther, Dylan, Stephanie, & Mark

“Home is not a place, it’s a feeling.”

This is a quote from my personal essay that brought me here. With the Xinjiang teachers and my fellow ETAs, I have found this feeling. They also help me recognize where else I experience this feeling: with my mom and dad in Florida, with my partner, Spencer, and with my two cats, Zeus and Shadow. The good thing about feelings is that they travel with me wherever I go.


Fun fact: The Xinjiang province is predominantly Muslim so the foods we eat and share must be Halal. Oftentimes, you can tell if a food is Halal because it will have an indicating stamp on the package. Most commonly, Halal food does not contain pork.

Coloane

This past weekend, Mark and I decided to go on what we THOT was going to be a nice, relaxing trip to the beach. Instead, we accidentally ended up climbing a mountain! Ah, the joys of getting lost.

Coloane is the southern most part of Taipa (the south island of Macau) and largely remains untouched. Here, it is quiet enough to hear yourself think, unlike the city which buzzes with constant construction and noise. It takes about an hour by bus to get to this safe haven, and it’s well worth the ride because you can visit Hac Sa Beach and Reservoir Park to go swimming and hiking.

Hac Sa

Hac Sa Beach is known for its black sand that comes from minerals in the ocean. In recent years, however, they’ve had to mix in yellow sand to keep the beach from washing away. The result is something like mud. Being a Floridian, I would not put Hac Sa in my top five. The pictures I took make it look nice, but I made sure not to capture the dead fish floating in the water or the trash littered all over the shore. To my surprise, the beach was packed by the end of the day! Perhaps they came for the warm water….

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Black sand Hac Sa
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Mud pedicure
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Asphyxiated teddy bear trash
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Picnic tables amidst a jungle backdrop

Thankfully, we stumbled upon the beach’s alternative — the reservoir — after climbing a set of stone stairs. The reservoir is much cleaner and you can partake in water sports like paddle boating.

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Creepy reservoir wall painting
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Casual temple at the top of reservoir hill
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Bridge that leads to hiking trails
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View of casual temple from other side of reservoir

A-Ma

It all started when I so foolishly suggested, “Hey, let’s go up there!” pointing to a set of stairs which led us to miss several left turns at Albuquerque. We veered from the 2-star “easy” path to what seemed like the never-ending path. It just kept going up….and up….and up….until finally we reached a sign indicating A-Ma statue was — you guessed it — up! Our TripAdvisor review of A-Ma became “If you’re here, do it,” or “If you made it this far, may as well!”

All thirst and starvation jokes aside, A-Ma turned out to be quite special for me. A-Ma is the Daoist goddess of the sea, based off of a woman from real life. The inscription near her statue says:

A-ma was born to the Lin fishing family in Fujian province in the year AD 960. She was a gentle, beautiful maiden who demonstrated admirable virtues and sacred powers from childhood. She dedicated her life to guiding the voyages of sailors and merchants, even rescuing them from stormy waters. She has been worshipped for centuries and even nowadays, her kind deeds are remembered in the province of Fujian and Guangdong.

Legend relates that A-Ma also protected fishermen and merchants who sailed to Macau. In gratitude for her protection from the perils of the sea, a temple was erected in her honor on Barra Hill and she was worshipped here long before the Portuguese arrived. When the Portuguese settled here, they called the land “Macau” meaning “the port of A-Ma.”

You see, my Goong Goong is from the Fujian province and he is the Lin family. It made me very proud at that moment to know we belong to something greater and that my home is all around me. She was well worth the hike.

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Sculpted in white jade from Beijing, A-Ma statue stands 65 feet tall
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Follow the yellow brick road
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Dreaming about food
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Temple beside A-Ma (unfortunately, it was closed)
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Just a bunch of goons
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About to get eaten by a giant rock-fish

Fernando’s

If you didn’t go to Fernando’s Restaurant, did you even go to Coloane?

Macau’s premier Portuguese restaurant located in Coloane offers a delicious and unique blend of Portuguese-Macanese food. Famed for it’s seafood, we ordered the beans and rice with chorizo. Yum! For dessert, the most mouth-watering donuts in all the land — our reward for not dying as we tumbled down the mountain.

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Dinner with a view!
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I’ve never tasted chorizo this good, and the beans and rice tasted “just like home” for New Orleans Mark
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The bread gets a shoutout because it was homemade
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Mmm, donuts

Fun fact: It took 120 sculptors eight months to carve the world’s largest statue of A-Ma, erected in 1998 atop Mountain Dep Sek Tong in Coloane, Macao.

Intercultural Exchange

Hurricane Irma

I’m glad to hear my friends and family are safe after the storm. I want to revise some of the previous comments I made about global warming in my last post. After seeing many similar comments on social media, I realized that it’s very easy to make such comments, but much harder to actually do something about it. Instead of blaming the government for not believing in science, I think it’s more effective to start revising our everyday actions to be more in line with a sustainable future. I don’t discount the dialogue the storm created, but I think it’s equally important to start doing some of the things we consider as morally upright behavior.

Xinjiang

Each year at MPI, the ETAs have the privilege of working with teachers from the Xinjiang province — the largest, most northwest region in China. Our main assignment is to facilitate “Friday outings” by visiting cultural spots in Macau while, at the same time, promoting intercultural exchange. After meeting the 6 teachers from Xinjiang and 2 special guests from Beijing, it doesn’t really feel like an assignment at all because we’re getting sponsored by the school to explore Macau with good company! Up until November when their program ends, you can find us visiting museums around Macau, sharing food in the kitchen, and exchanging stories about our homes. I really like these folks because they have a lot to offer in terms of traditional Chinese culture, and they have been nothing but open and kind to us in the short week we’ve known each other.

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Our first Friday outing to old Taipa village
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The gang
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Street view of Taipa village
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Posing in front of historic trees and Coke bottles
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Rainy day PJ lunch
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Polo, a traditional dish from Xinjiang consisting of rice, carrots, and beef

Zhuhai

This weekend, I got the privilege to visit mainland China for the first time! For readers new to this distinction, Macau and Hong Kong are considered their own countries, even though they are geographically attached to China; therefore, whenever you refer to China, you generally use “mainland China” or simply “the mainland.” I secured my Chinese visa before I left America, so I was just waiting for the right opportunity to visit the closest city to Macau’s border — Zhuhai. Lucky for me, one of the Xinjiang teachers, Tim, invited me to go grocery shopping with him over the border because it’s much cheaper to buy food in China and there is more selection than in Macau. I didn’t really know what he was talking about until I saw it with my own eyes:

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Yum! My favorite!

Don’t worry, that was the most jarring thing to me. Otherwise, the supermarket was like a Chinese Walmart that has everything you could need. Tim patiently took me around the store and explained what most of the foreign items were and how to use them. I was grateful because Chinese cooking is very different from American cooking so I didn’t really know where to start. They have a different diet and most everything is cooked or steamed, including all vegetables. You would never see a Chinese person eating a raw salad or taking a bite out of a carrot stick! I’m just excited to get my hands on those sweet custard buns….

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Immediately crossing the border leads you straight into a — you guessed it — MALL!
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A traditional Chinese treat, Tim explained, similar to our candy apples
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All things cute in China
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Casual hot pot
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Chinese Walmart

That’s all for now!

I’ll leave you with another Fun Fact: Restaurants serve boiling water by default, you must ask for ice water.